Telling trivia from truth.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by aplumpton, Oct 22, 2010.

  1. .... or, perhaps in better terms, telling the banal visual expression from a photograph possessing a bountiful or more meaningful expression? By truth I mean mainly the latter, not some unattainable quality (I couldn't resist putting the OP title in the form of an alliteration). What is banal or trivial may be different for each of us, but many are probably of similar mind that a cliché image has a great tendency to be banal or trivial. One problem with human expressions (in street shooting, portraits, other) is that they can easily be considered less meaningful because we are all too familiar with them, that they are not unique. The same may be aplied to a series of images of well-known landscapes. But does this make them trivial? Another aspect is that the subject, whether architecture, landscape, streetscape or portrait, or some theme applying one of these features, may be more or less inviting to different persons.
    I have noted quite a different perception in this forum on the value of certain images to different persons. Often that difference is exploited or referenced indirectly in discussion of the images or a concept that the images seek to elaborate. The weight of the argument is often related to personal preferences in the perceptions of images. Are there some less subjective criteria that we use in discerning whether a photo is trivial or banal, as compared to one that is of a bountiful and/or original visual expression?
     
  2. The thing about cliches is that they often are such because of their truth. Their familiarity may breed artistic contempt, but they're often about very non-trivial things (human relations, the march of time, mortality, birth, and such ... not always garden gates, ladybugs, and real estate agent business card head shots).
    Are there some less subjective criteria that we use in ...​
    The trick there is: who's "we?" That presumes a homogeneity in the We that's doing the observing and processing of the image under discussion. I've rarely seen my images (cliches that they are) taken up by two people in the same way.
     
  3. jtk

    jtk

    1) As individuals we do respond correctly to images. If they seem trivial, they are. If they strike us as bountiful, they are.
    2) Trivial images are often accompanied by convoluted "explanations." Bountiful images stand on their own, whether the bounty is smiley-faced, depressing, or threatening.
     
  4. Matt and John, thanks for kicking this off. I ought to have said "you" rather than "we", as in the reformulated phrase "Are there some less subjective criteria that you use in...".
     
  5. In addition to the banal or trivial being different for each of us, it will also be different in terms of time periods, cultures, and photographic knowledge and experience. John's reference to memes in another thread brings to mind time and cultural related differences in terms of what constitutes banal in photography. A bare light bulb against a red ceiling would seem to be relatively banal to most people. In 1900 it may well have been perceived as such. In 2000 it is not.
    But the meat of your topic seems to exist less in a historical exploration of the banal/trivial in photography than it does in this: "Are there some less subjective criteria that we use in discerning whether a photo is trivial or banal, as compared to one that is of a bountiful and/or original visual expression?"
    The short answer is "not bloody well likely with this bunch." John's take seems to be that if we, as individuals, think an image is trivial, then it probably is. But I have read enough John Kelly posts to know that he is not embracing a relativistic "whatever you say is cool with me...now let's sing kumbaya" approach. And although I could argue that a bountiful or significant image could be accompanied by convoluted explanations, I concede that in most cases it probably won't be.
    Could photographic examples (our own, or those of others) assist in this discussion? Dangerous ground if we chose to use some sterile PS "Beautiful image! 7/7!" example from PN. That which we do not consider to be banal (significant, bountiful) might be better.
    (I will have to leave this to others, alas, as I am being hounded to get off the computer at the moment. I am interested to see how this discussion shapes up...)
    I will close, for now, by saying that if so much as a single guitar playing Roma homunculus shows up in this thread I shall throw the transgressor under the hooves of a virtual herd of thoroughbreds.
     
  6. Oh...I missed Arthur's post...what do I use? Time to ponder...
     
  7. jtk

    jtk

    Steve G, zap! TWO guitar-playing Roma (and a bass): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKrP82tKh6k&feature=related
    I must point out that "banal" and "trivial" may seem similar conceptually, but "the banal" is a realm that some very famous photographers have pursued. I can't think who just now, but they dote on images of suburbia, nowheresville, inconsequential brief phenomena etc. Well, there's Lee Friedlander and Bill Owens. Camera Magazine, Swiss-published and American edited, kicked off the idea that there clearly could be photographic value in the banal, devoting entire issues to it. I'm kinda' tired of it: beaten to death now for at least 30 years by people who seem now to only see the banal. A little more melodrama wouldn't hurt...if it could be accomplished without Photo.net's routine grotesque photoshopping.
    Gertrude Stein, was stunned by the banal she found, visiting her former home (Oakland CA: "there's no there there" she said in total blinkered ignorance of its rich cultural stew...but she also said something to the effect that "the artist" (whatever that is) notices import things in places a mere lumpen human being misses, such as grass growing up in sidewalk cracks.
     
  8. As individuals we do respond correctly to images. If they seem trivial, they are. If they strike us as bountiful, they are.​
    The formulations of John above stabilobosses exactly where individualism becomes narrow minded and where Arthurs interesting questioning about "some less subjective criteria" becomes of interest.
    When John write "they are (trivial)" it is forgotten to add "for me(-him)", and when the word "seem" is introduced, it is forgotten that the conclusion has already been drawn: TRIVIAL !
    Some efforts and maybe even some in-depth seeing, studying, reflection, coming back, reference to other images, doubt, strong coffee and cold showers - might make, for any of us, a seemly trivial image into the revelation of a life-time. Easy consumption and shootings-from-the-hips-conclusions are not recommendable even if one wants to drawn one owns conclusions about any image that one falls on. There is even the possibility that the conclusion could, God forbid it, be : I don't understand.
    To come back, therefor, to Arthur's question of some "less subjective criteria" I would not expect, but I might be wrong, that such criteria exist. What exists are maybe appreciations of triviality of images where a great number (majority?) of viewers agree - but then we are back to the beauty - contest mode of functioning most of us would reject as serious criteria to follow and respect. What also exist, of course, but which many seem to have little respect for, is the institutional art-community type of criteria that makes some photos being highly priced and others unsellable. Personally, I would opt for a consideration of both these criteria-builders as a starting point.
     
  9. I won't touch "truth" or "more/less meaningful" with a twenty foot pole and a full-body hazardous waste suit. But beyond that, I don't see any opposition between trivial/banal and "truth" or "meaningful." The trivial or banal is just as true as the non-trivial, and meaning ... didn't we just do that one?
    What I'm thinking Arthur is after is pictures the subject of which the photographer really, really cared about versus pictures the subject of which he didn't give a fig about. Please let me know. It's hot inside this hazardous waste suit.
     
  10. The challenge of being an artist or photographer of significance may be that there are no objective criteria for being good. The point may be to get it off your chest, not to make a good photo with a bunch of criteria.
    Here are some of my ways of judging (which will vary because each photo is approached individually):
    Voice -- Is a body of work developing with some kind of consistency (not necessarily of subject matter or style, but something)? Non-randomness.
    Commitment -- What Julie may be getting at. Do I sense you care . . . about your subject and your photograph (and, yes, they are sometimes one and the same)? And have you translated that caring visually? Do you seem hesitant about your choices or have you jumped in feet first?
    Questioning -- Perhaps the flip side of commitment. Still with care, but openly curious. Up front about your uncertainty.
    Internal coherence of elements -- Do the technique, the form, and the content work together, which may mean being in harmony or intentional opposition? Even if candid and spontaneous (which aren't a net plus for me in the absence of other significant factors), is there orchestration? Is the style chosen because it's cool or because someone else seems to have done it well or is it chosen because it works with the subject or scene?
    Refinement of technique -- May be blatant, subtle, or nuanced. Does it look like the technique was phoned in (like using a saturation slider bar willy nilly) or is there some level of craft evident in the work?
    Movement -- Am I at a significantly different place or in a significantly different frame of mind or emotional state after having viewed it?
     
  11. "The weight of the argument is often related to personal preferences in the perceptions of images."
    Sometimes yes. But sometimes the photo is lousy, and it's got nothing to do with viewer perception. You mistakenly thought I didn't like your photo of the chairs in the pool. You assumed I need a human element in photos I like. It didn't seem to me an illustration of breaking rules, though it does seem to step outside your own photographic tendencies.
    Originality -- I mentioned Hockney. That wasn't a veiled put down or claim of lack of originality. Being influenced by another or coming up with something similar may result in a great photo. Having to break rules can itself become a confining rule. If one is passionate about so-called rules or about what has worked historically or one is genuinely influenced by another, something significant can result. When I fight against what is genuine for me because I think something I'm doing isn't original enough, I'm at risk of being hung up on the way I think it must be.
     
  12. A merited slap on the hand received from Julie for having used such indefinable words as truth and meaningful, and also from John for his reflection on the use of banal (for trivial), which has the trap of referring to a specific and perhaps not very glorious art movement.
    Anders tackles the question of some common less subjective criteria for distinguishing trivial and significant, by taking what are the views of a reasonable sized collectivity as regards trivial work, and that of an art community's stamp on greatness or bountiful expression in an image. Julie's suggestion of whether commitment or care have been displayed in regard to a subject is one good way of discerning whether an image may be potentially of one or the other camps, but it is one that is determined by the photographer alone and not by the viewer or viewing community, and is thus partly lacking as a guide to photographic excellence (if indeed a "guide" could exist for the separation of trivial and significant).
    Fred, as ever, provides a very thoughtful review of personal approaches and image attributes that go farther in defining the differences between the creation of trivial and significant images. But are we still too closely tied to the question of the banality or significance of the approach, as opposed to those of the product (the image)? Apart from the occasional flashes of inspiration, luck and accident, are not all significant images created from approaches that consider the elements proposed by Fred? What of the images that follow Fred's cycle of creativity but which end up as trivial? (assuming that Anders' large group of sensitive viewers has decided that in such case)?
    I tend to agree with Anders and Fred and others about the probable non-existence of objective criteria for distinguishing between trivia and significant. Yes, an image can be decomposed into its elements that the photographer has assembled, and the presence and interaction of those elements can hint at its significance, or not. I think that the word (and the definition of) "movement" as used by Fred is one good path to the discerning of the nature of the image, but it requires, for intelligible communication, that the viewer state why the image has moved him (not just "I like it but I cannot explain why").
    Is it really easier to distinguish the presence of a trivial image than to distinguish whether an image is significant? Why do some regard an image as trivial while others are quite moved by it?
     
  13. Here's one to chew on. Since it's mine, I only ask that you not chomp down too hard.
    --Lannie
    00XXPY-293351584.jpg
     
  14. The side of the house shown smacks me in the face, catching the bright sun relentlessly. (I don't like that but Lannie may have wanted that and may have felt something as aggressive as that was warranted. It doesn't, however, feel like intentional aggression. It just feels like strong sun on a bland surface.)
    The house occupies a severely large portion of the frame, eschewing context. (Again, a blatancy, but to what effect? A question is neither posed nor answered. Is there curiosity, something to be learned here? Should I care about this photo? What, visually, makes it or could make it significant?)
    There is no refined color sense. The approach and result are, again, blatant. (All photos shouldn't require subtlety, though it often helps. Some are effectively blatant. Colors can be effectively simple or they can be so simple as to be throwaways. The color here is a big part of the photo because it occupies so much space and is so unvarying. It loses my interest in a heartbeat. Were it consciously or pointedly offset by other color usages, either just as simple or much more complex, it might garner more interest. But, again, not having anything to play off leaves it high and dry.)
    Though Arthur thinks care is only something relating to the photographer's approach, I think a photographer's care is significant if it can be visually translated to the photo. I see care in photos often (though not often enough). If Lannie cares about this house, which he well may, it doesn't come through. If he doesn't care about the house, I might be moved if he pointedly showed me that he doesn't care . . . and, perhaps, why.
    This photo might have a different impact as part of a series. It could fit into a greater whole. The blatancy might start having more visual significance. As is, I might expect to see it -- and not think it was effective -- in a real estate sales magazine as something taken by the agent selling it.
    For me, it presents a golden opportunity. Lannie might tell us why he took it and what, if anything, he likes about it or was trying to convey or show. That would give me a handle on further, more refined, critique. Or he might be satisfied with it as is, in which case I'd stand by my own critique and probably stop there. For me, the sign of a troubled photograph is that I'm not sure a reason could be given, either by photographer or viewer, why it was taken.
     
  15. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie, you shared it specifically because you wanted us to see it. That's it's significance to you. I like the color.
    It's banal or a trivial or bountiful, depending entirely on who you are and the context in which it's displayed. Here, it's displayed solo....it could be more significant if a related grouping was displayed, as in a Photo.net portfolio. IMO individual images are almost invariably worth a lot less out of a photographer's context, ie without related portfolio or exhibit examples.
    As "art" it seems more interesting than your barn/abandoned-building images, but it could be a great advertisement for someone's paint company shown this way (solo), rather than in some kind of context. Is it a paint company advertisement? I think you could take this concept and run with it, make a coherent and worthwhile project out of that kind of home-owner aesthetic.
     
  16. jtk

    jtk

    Fred's list deserves attention. He's answering a question with more questions, which is the only way truth can be approximated (unless one believes Sarah Palin).
    To his list I would add something like "realized intentions" : does the image seem to share something the photographer intended? Sharing is the point of photography. Or...isn't it? :)
    "refinement of technique" may not be as relevant today as it was a few decades ago. Popular and "artistic" tastes now very presume high production values (images that look like television) before they begin to consider substance (IMO of course). Digital technology accomplishes very high production values automatically. I don't think viewers unfamiliar with post-processing or wet darkroom can have much appreciation for refined technique, just as art critics and historians ordinarily fail to indicate awareness of refined technique's fundamentals, such as invested labor, anxiety, ecstacy, and time in paintings.
    How can a viewer who's never explored post-processing or worked personally in a wet darkroom appreciate "refined technique?" I think someone who's played piano seriously can appreciate "refinement of pianistic technique" far better than I can (thinking back on a squabble Fred and I had in an earlier thead about Glenn Gould).
     
  17. [Still circling the oft-picked carcass of what makes an above-average photograph, I see.]
    Banal means commonplace, but photography is so bloated with bountiful ca-ca that the banal is uncommon. It can have meaning, or not. Bountiful is for harvest festivals, but I know what Arthur is after.
    "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"
    John - "As individuals we do respond correctly to images."
    Then why do we disagree with each other, if all of us are correct?
    JK - "2) Trivial images are often accompanied by convoluted "explanations."
    That logic renders almost every single image ever shown in this forum trivial.
    Steve wisely dragged in Eggleston - "A bare light bulb against a red ceiling would seem to be relatively banal to most people. In 1900 it may well have been perceived as such. In 2000 it is not."
    Actually, it still looks banal, but creatively so. In 1976, it was perceived as banal and trivial. John thankfully pointed out "...that "banal" and "trivial" may seem similar conceptually, but "the banal" is a realm that some very famous photographers have pursued." Which is what Steve was alluding to.
    Anders also brought in timespace/cultural coordinates context. Then he made some austere recommendations:
    "Some efforts and maybe even some in-depth seeing, studying, reflection, coming back, reference to other images, doubt, strong coffee and cold showers - might make, for any of us, a seemly trivial image into the revelation of a life-time."
    Can we make that really good coffee and a hot bath? Many great photographers have pumped out world-class work while leading, er.... less ascetic lives.
    Julie - "I won't touch "truth" or "more/less meaningful" with a twenty foot pole and a full-body hazardous waste suit."
    Pole? Hazmat suit? I'll bring the meaningful truth.
    Julie - "But beyond that, I don't see any opposition between trivial/banal and "truth" or "meaningful." The trivial or banal is just as true as the non-trivial, and meaning ... didn't we just do that one?"
    Yeah, it comes up about once a month, but it's indicative of what many here want: Geez, how do I make great photographs?
    Julie then shows us how to generate a meaningful image: "Please let me know It's hot inside this hazardous waste suit."
    Fred came up with a good list, as far as lists go, but the meaty part preceded it: "The point may be to get it off your chest, not to make a good photo with a bunch of criteria."
    My answer (and it won't satisfy anyone, I know) is: Connoisseurship.
    Off to a late breakfast.
     
  18. Ah, the spontaneousness of the approach "to get something off one's chest." Sounds good (meatey) and no doubt works in some cases (Burtynsky's mild rant against human wastemaking, for example), but is that the principle motivation in most cases? Creative photography is the result of many types of motivations, just as the viewing of photographs brings a variety of feelings or emotions. Subtelty is a quality in art that is easily overlooked, probably as much in images thought to be trivial as in images considered significant. Some layers are lost or not seen. But this is a consequence of many things, and not just art and photography.
    Luis suggest a meatier word "Connoisseurship". It should be remembered that those claiming to be cognoscente or "critical judges" have historically missed the boat on many artists and movements. Connoiseurs seem to have little trouble in determining what is valuable within their chosen milieu with which they are most familiar, but are sometimes without oars in other waters. I agree that educated critiques are to be listened to, and learned from, but "Connoiseurship" can have its limits and can also become simply "Comeworship" (a paradigm that is not absent in the reverance saometimes too easily attributed to some former photographers).
    Luis, it may sound trivial, but I welcome late breakfasts like the charms of silences or repeated themes in music. Unhurried. Enjoy.
     
  19. Arthur, why do you think getting something off one's chest is spontaneous? A lot of my very contrived, planned, and non-spontaneous photos are driven by getting something off my chest. By getting something off my chest, I meant "a significant expressing." Thanks to Luis for picking it up.
    As for subtlety, I agree it can be important. I think John's point may be apt here. Because subtlety is hard to handle (knowing just how subtle is effective and when subtlety is too subtle to show or be effective), some try to nuance their photos with overblown descriptions or interpretations. It can lead critics to hyperbole and fluffy overstatements. They are (sometimes!) trying to imbue a photograph with subtlety that the photo itself didn't effectively convey.
     
  20. Fred, sometimes getting something off one's chest seems to me to be a spontaneous reaction. I know that you may consider it to be integral to some photo projects, which is a powerful aproach. I react to what I see on some trips to certain places, or even in seeing new situations in my region, and sometimes that reaction is triggered by my thoughts that the image opportunity allows me expression. I do agree that that type of motivation can yield significant images. it was just that I cannot conceive of it being a very universal motivation for creation, as Luis seemed to imply by his reference to it as a "meatier" influence. Perhaps I misinterpreted the supposed universality of his comment. In any case, it is a question of the approach of the photographer, and not the effect of the image itself, and whether it is perceived as significant or banal.
     
  21. jtk

    jtk

    Luis G :
    "John - "As individuals we do respond correctly to images."
    Luis G - Then why do we disagree with each other, if all of us are correct?"
    Answer: Because we are individuals. QED.
    "John - "2) Trivial images are often accompanied by convoluted "explanations."
    Luis G - That logic renders almost every single image ever shown in this forum trivial."

    OK. Noted.
    This is "logical": To evaluate anyone's visual credentials, click on the name, compare to what they write.
     
  22. It's a matter of one's visual vocabulary, isn't it? How often does on have to see an image to become familiar enough with it to immediately want to go on to something else when he sees it again? That is, no image is truly familiar the first time one sees it, but many images are similar to others to the point that their content seems to be "intuitively obvious." Too much similarity breeds boredom and earns the label of being banal.
    But when did familiarity and truth morph into the same thing? I can think of no sort of scale that puts banality on one end and truth on the other. They have nothing in common at all.
    The original question needs more work and some specific examples to provide a meaningful frame of reference that might weave the two ideas of truth and familiarity into the same fabric. Perhaps something like, "The familiar images convey a kind truthfulness because they persist. Unfamiliar images are also truthful, but you see them as often."
    Truthyness might work as well. Perhaps familiar images, particularly ones used in advertising are more truthy than actually truthful. That is, some images appear to be telling some truth without quite making it all the way. The point here is that there is more than one flavor for truth. Truth about what? By whose telling? Is an optical illusion true?
    Consider visual jokes and sight gags. Many of these images are not true in themselves, but suggest a comparison with something else not in the picture to provide a context needed to get the joke. They can be banal and yet still funny. Truth for a picture can be very difficult to detect and evaluate because the viewer might have to provide it for himself.
    None of this by the way approaches a discussion of how humans reach a consensus of opinion about whether or not an image is commonplace and what it actually says.
     
  23. Correction: The original paragraph written as follows
    The original question needs more work and some specific examples to provide a meaningful frame of reference that might weave the two ideas of truth and familiarity into the same fabric. Perhaps something like, "The familiar images convey a kind truthfulness because they persist. Unfamiliar images are also truthful, but you see them as often."​
    Should read:
    The original question needs more work and some specific examples to provide a meaningful frame of reference that might weave the two ideas of truth and familiarity into the same fabric. Perhaps something like, "The familiar images convey a kind truthfulness because they persist. Unfamiliar images are also truthful, but you don't see them as often."​
     
  24. Albert,
    While your points about truth and about familiarity are appealing, I don't see how they relate to the question of discerning a significant image friom a trivial or banal one. I used "truth" in the title but then disclaimed in the opening sentences that word in the alliterated phrase of the title, substituting for it trivial versus "bountiful expression" or a trivial versus a "signifiucant" image. I think we should use significant or meaningful (oops, Julie has put on her hazardous waste suit again) or bountiful expression, and not truth, as being the opposite to trivial or banal. I guess that I also don't see what familiarity or the lack of it has to do with defining significant in this case, but I may have missed your point.
    Copying of, or similar, images can be part of what might be considered as banal, as you say, as in your example of repeated images. On the other hand, a unique image may still be trivial, as uniqueness is argumentably not a sufficient value for an image to be significant, from the artistic point of view at least.
     
  25. I agree with Albert, but I have understood that the question related to "truth" had been somewhat withdrawn. So we have the question of trivial images and the question whether only subjective appreciation of triviality exist or whether there are some more objective criteria out there. I'm not convinced that anything related to the intentions or the efforts made by the photographer has anything to do with the triviality or not of the result. Many of the most famous photographies were in fact made by chance as snapshots and the main "effort" made by the photographer or others were in the selection and choice of photos to be exhibited as potentially especially interesting.
    One way of approaching the subject would therefor be to refer to images that few would consider trivial because they are part of our common history of major photographical work such as this of Willy Ronis and surely this or that; or this of Elliot Erwitt or surely this or that; or why not this of the Taiwanese contemporary photographer Gau Yuan Yuan which has been sold for fortunes and exhibited across the world. Why are these photographies anything but trivial ? What makes them differ from most of what we upload on Photonet, unless there are one or two exceptional that personally I have not discovered. I'm sure I could live of it if I were able pick them among the millions more or less trivial ones.
     
  26. Thanks for comments on the picture of the blue house that I posted. I had passed the house hundreds of times without even noticing it, and one day I noticed it (October 7) and the next day (October 8) I went back and photographed it--on the way to photographing the dogs by the fenceline on the farm, as well as the barn photo (my intended destination for the day). I don't think that I would have made so much as a trip across our small town to photograph this house. I was willing to stop for five minutes, once I had the camera and tripod in the car on the way to shoot something else.
    Given the garish color, I am sitting here wondering how I could have not noticed this house previously, but perhaps that also is a testament to the banality of the subject: it is otherwise so ordinary (apart from the color, that is) that it does not attract attention to itself. It is on a short-cut that I take when trying to get to the interstate to go to points north and east, such as Greensboro or Durham or Chapel Hill, and it is remarkable only because it almost immediately adjacent to a very nice part of town with huge homes on the oldest country club around (not my neighborhood).
    Fred is right to call the photo of it "blatant." The tight crop emphasizes that sense of "blatantness," although the reason for the tight crop was that everything around it was a mess. Including the rest might have given it a bit of context, but nothing interesting. Being originally sized to fit the screen also emphasized a sense of blatantness, I suppose, though that was not my point. In fact, there was no particular point to be made in shooting it. Even so, somehow it captured my attention and then my imagination. Unfortunately, to the extent that I might have some kind of photographic imagination, I would be hard pressed to defend that claim with this photo.
    John, perhaps the color could sell some paint, but only if one likes the result--and I rather doubt that paint companies would want this photo or this house associated with their products.
    I took the picture because it occurred to me that, ordinary though the house was, perhaps it was worthy of note, sort of like the soup can that must have inspired Warhol's painting. The house's thoroughly trivial or ordinary appearance is shown by the fact that it could escape my notice for so long. Once noticed, at least in the afternoon when the sun bouncing off of it makes it almost impossible to ignore, one cannot help but see it again--it is set back about ten feet from the sidewalk. It is there. In some sense, it even seems to scream, "I am HERE. I exist." No one cared. That has not changed that I can tell. The photo of it will share a similar fate. This is as much fame as either the house or the photo of house is going to get. I am unfeeling at that prospect.
    I'm really not sure why I took the shot. I submitted it here only because in some way it seemed a good example of the trivial and the banal. In fact, it is so thoroughly uninteresting a subject that I wondered to what extent something's lack of interest might be a defining attribute of the banal--or is the uninteresting nature of something only a contingent, not a necessary, ingredient of its banality?
    So, the question that I am left with is whether the banal is typically associated with that which is uninteresting. When photographers or painters do abstract the banal from reality and put it center stage so that we are forced to notice it, what are they trying to tell us or show us?
    Thank you for enduring both the photo and the post(s).
    --Lannie
    00XXXO-293449584.jpg
     
  27. Bzzzztt!! [I feel like I'm on a game show: Name That Thread!! -- whoever gets it right wins a new refrigerator!]
    How about this? In the socio-political-personal-emotion weave of life -- the great Brillo pad in which we are all embedded -- if you can snip it out and flush it and nobody misses it, it's trivial. On the other hand, if you remove it and people start to cry or point and giggle or call the repair person, then it's "meaningful." [please hand me the Sani-Wipes]
    [Edited to add: I posted at the same time as Lannie. I like his blue house.]
     
  28. I was beginning to wonder, Julie, and the house (not to say the photo of it) was probably a bit hurt. As for myself, I was feeling like I had been instantly gonged before I had scarcely started my song and dance.
    Feel free, guys, to cite the house or the photo in the literature. You may even call it "The Banal Blue Abode" if you wish.
    --Lannie
     
  29. jtk

    jtk


    The house is significant to Lannie, otherwise he would not have both photographed and shared it. It's out of keeping with the earlier, standard-issue old barns. To me it's far more "bountiful." When I see old barn photos I think "hobbiest photographer" and when I see wildly painted houses I think "maybe this has some potential."
    It might be more "bountiful" if, as Fred and I suggested, it was part of a coherent group, sequence, portfolio etc. As it stands, solo, it really does look like an ad for paint. It's certainly as "tasteful" as "Jeffersonian " faux-mansion "architecture." I've seen a lot of houses like this in places like Newfoundland and backwoods Southern USA. That "look" is powerfully attractive to the right market segment.
    In an earlier era they would have had washing machines on their front porches and orange Plymouth Roadrunners on what might have once been gardens. That house needs an orange Roadrunner. http://rides.webshots.com/photo/1086344104047076720YrgGam
     
  30. "I have understood that the question related to "truth" had been somewhat withdrawn"
    Anders, you are right, it was in the first and second sentences of the OP.
    You are using also Luis's example of "Connoisseurship" (which I like to sometimes mispronounce as something tonally similar to "Comeworship") in regard to the photos of Elliott, Ronis and all as being references of "significant","meaningful", or "bountifully expressive" images.
    But it isn't enough I think to just say they are, because the C's or CW's have said so, but you as a viewer should have a go at defining why they appear to you as significant, or we are thrust into in the realm of "The Emperor's New Clothes". There is a lot of me-too-ism in photography and art that the art professors like to promulgate, or that the mindset of a past generation took to be great, but which the art or photography world might be a little beyond at present. I am not knocking the fine works of the past, but think we owe it to ourselves to personally evaluate what are or are not significant works. I am less pessimistic in finding very fine and significant works here in Photo.Net. I have seen a number that move me as much as some of the "classics", although not within categories (like POW) of the more visible entries.
    I would have thought the photographs of more trivial or banal nature (e.g., sunsets that are virtual copies of others) are also easy for each of us to (albeit if only subjectively) qualify, as to whether an image moves us, or not. I first looked at Lannie's blue building photo and thought it of the definitely banal type. I didn't say it, as I usually have to have something I personally like if only a little bit to move to criticism (that is, ability to praise a part and suggest that the rest may not be contiguous with that). But now I am not fully sure, as it does arose some interest, and not just because there have been many words offered about it. Whether that additional interest is enough to move me I am not sure, bit it may not change my initial impression of disinterest. That is not the case for many of Lannie's other photos.
    In short, I would suggest that any examples of well-known or not well-known images be accompanied by your personal evaluation. In that way, praise or rejection need not be obfuscation, but a measure of how you discern the qualities of either. There may not be a common consensus at all, but the types of appreciation (positive or negative) may elaborate on what trivial and significant mean. So far, I think Fred has used and define the word or phrase like "ability to move me", to which we might add the words why and how?
    Which brings me to comment "When I see old barn photos I think "hobbiest photographer" and when I see wildly painted houses I think "maybe this has some potential." This is a very categoric, generlized and "collimated" as view, which you may well also apply to other subject matter in photography.
    I guess someone can submit some nice colorful real estate photos and reap praise?
     
  31. Geez, John. Lannie didn't photograph "the house." He photographed the living baby-blueness that made it so.
     
  32. This thread could benefit from some examples, in my opinion--better ones than my blue house photo.
    There is something about the banal and the trivial that seems obvious enough, and yet, when one tries to conceptualize the issues, those issues are remarkably hard to formulate and address in the formal language of philosophy and art criticism.
    Sometimes my feeble mind needs something a bit more concrete: how about posting some examples, guys? Two levels of abstraction away from reality is hard for my old brain to process today.
    --Lannie
     
  33. By damn, John, that is one fine orange Plymouth roadrunner in your post of 4:50 p.m. I want one for my front yard, whether with wheels or up on concrete blocks I care not. The white-painted tractor tires that I am using for flowerbeds need something else in order to succeed.
    Perhaps someone from Florida will send me a plastic pink flamingo--or at least a photo of one.
    --Lannie
     
  34. In part to please John, because AT LEAST with this image he is right about images of old buildings being trivial or banal. The shingles initially amused me, and had I photographed them differently, in less dull daytime light, or in specific close up. I might have made a more interesting image. As it was, being a fixed focal length lens user and distant from my kit, the latter was out of reach.
    I place this image in the trivial category for the following reasons:
    • Unless you are a roofer or protector of old fishing buildings, this won't move you;
    • As mentioned, there is no particular quality to the photographic approach, lighting or attempt to create tension, emotion or other;
    • The subject is not particularly interesting for most;
    • There is no mystery or enigma, surrealism, immaterial statement or context that a viewer might relate to.
    Yes, some will contradict that appraisal, but it is my subjectivity that leads me to consider it trivial. Therefore, for me at least (ignoring any thoughts of the roofer) IT IS.
    Such images are not difficult to classify in the banal category. Fine images are somewhat harder. There is no point I think of putting up one's own star image, as it would just receive gratuitous positive as well as negative critique, which is the nature of and not the force of PofP (that force currently resides in the useful verbal exchanges).
    However, if someone can decompose the image of one of our historic greats, that would be useful and might establish some of the parameters we use in deciding what is significant as opposed to banal.
    00XXa8-293483584.jpg
     
  35. Having read what all of you have posted, I don't want to pound over the same ground.

    John: Touche'. Two Roma and a bass were too much for my virtual herd. You are safe. And banal v trivial...yes, a distinction.

    Anders: "the institutional art-community type of criteria that makes some photos being highly priced and others unsellable."

    There is something to be said for the...what? "validity"? "recognition"? that is bestowed upon a photographic work when hard cash is laid out for it by the community Anders mentions. I'm talking about purchases by museums, major auction houses, galleries, universities...not someone who might lay out $100 at a local arts and crafts fair. Purchases made by institutions and individuals who could be said to possess Luis' "connoiseurship".

    Arthur: "Luis suggest a meatier word "Connoisseurship". It should be remembered that those claiming to be cognoscente or "critical judges" have historically missed the boat on many artists and movements. Connoiseurs seem to have little trouble in determining what is valuable within their chosen milieu with which they are most familiar, but are sometimes without oars in other waters. I agree that educated critiques are to be listened to, and learned from, but "Connoiseurship" can have its limits and can also become simply "Comeworship" (a paradigm that is not absent in the reverance saometimes too easily attributed to some former photographers)."

    Arthur, errors of judgment, or the unquestioning acceptance and elevation of a cultural meme, style, fad -- whatever we want to call it--always happens. But I don't think connoisseurship is always an agent of faddish snobbery. In terms of photography, I think significant perceptual shifts were midwived by Stieglitz, Szarkowski and others. My impression is that most posters here are far better informed in terms of art history, criticism, movements, actual experience of the art world, etc. than I am. In that sense I only speak for myself when I say that I have struggled at times with keeping an open mind about certain styles or specific images. So, lately, I have been trying to understand first, to ignore initial "likes" or "dislikes". In the absence of knowing something about a photographer, sometimes all I can do is describe what I see and hope it leads to some kind of understanding. This general approach to photographs applies equally to that which might at first seem trivial or banal. So I suppose that is my response to your initial question of how "I" make a determination.

    I like Fred's listing of parameters, particularly the notion of "Voice" and body of work. There are many examples, but what sprang to mind was a thread (started by John, I think?) regarding Tanyth Berkeley's work "special ones". As individual photos they might not have sparked much interest and seemed less than technically accomplished. As a body of work they stood up differently, regardless of ones final "judgement" of their significance.

    Luis spoke of some aspects of this discussion distilling down to "how do I make a great photo". That certainly may be a part of it, but for me there is a distinction between how "I" make a "great" photo, and how I determine if a photo I am viewing is great (I prefer "significant" since "great" seems a bit over the top.). Education, exposure, reading, studying, photographing, utilization and development of film as well as digital, making prints, ...all of these may give one a greater level of "connoisseurship" with which to determine the latter. They can only contribute to the former, as well, but the eye, and the instinctual knowledge required...the growth of certainty and faith in one's eye and instinct...luck? gift of the gods? All one can do is do it, examine the results dispassionately, and learn...and keep going.
     
  36. Arthur, you're getting near to one of the fantasies among us when it comes to our individual abilities of judging the quality of a photo.
    We have all our guts feelings when we sap among photos and can sometimes after some reflection, maybe, conclude on which photos we like and which we dislike and reject as trivial or just not worth our attention. Some among us are proud to announce that we can do it in a fraction of a second. I'm sure, as we have seen, we can also each of us elaborate on the Why. Whether we "owe it to ourselves", as you write, to do that effort or not is irrelevant, in my opinion, to what we discuss. The question is not each one of us, and our comfort levels and personal ambitions, but whether a PHOTO is "trivial" or not - not whether I or you find it trivial or not. This is why I found your questioning about "less subjective criteria" interesting and something different from what normally have our attention in these threads.
    What are then such "less subjective criteria" ? One way of approaching an answer to such a question would, ads I suggested, to try to understand why certain photos seem to play out the historical role of icons in the history of photography. Playing such a role, could be one way of identifying non-trivial photos, that I would believe we can agree upon. Many other non-trivial photos exist and might be in our own portfolios, but what I suggested was to concentrate on some handpicked examples of those few icons.
    The photos I gave links to above might be such photos. I could also have chosen to upload a photo that clearly is not going to be such an icon and ask the question: Why not? It might be a lousy snapshot, but what is trivial about it? (see below).
    If I should suggest some of these less subjective criteria looking at the photos I linked to, I think I would start situating the photos in the historical context where they first earned their characteristics of icons. Erwitt and Ronis are both good examples of photographers that make the viewers smile with a certain ironical touch and able to express the romanticism of the early post-war period that also films of that period are characterized by. They are photos that might not teach us much about the world, but they mirror certain cliches that we appreciate recalling through photos. They are light and entertaining.
    Such "criteria" might just be some of the less subjective criteria of the photos of the two photographers I by chance picked. Other criteria could certainly be added by viewing iconic photos of for example Capa, Lange, Weston, Avedon - you name them!
    (This is written before having seen Steve's contribution above)
    00XXaU-293489584.jpg
     




  37. "Erwitt and Ronis are both good examples of photographers that make the viewers smile with a certain ironical touch and able to express the romanticism of the early post-war period that also films of that period are characterized by. They are photos that might not teach us much about the world, but they mirror certain clichés that we appreciate recalling through photos. They are light and entertaining."


    Anders,
    it delights me that you present the work of the post Stieglitz and Szarkowski periods in the manner you do. Erwitt, Ronis, Cartier-Bresson and many others are of the time you mention and their iconic images are examples of the state of the world at that time, and for many a simpler, unassuming and romantic time that has since disappeared with but a few minor exceptions. What was significant to the readers of "Life", "Paris Match", "The London Illustrated News" or Condé Nast has metamorphosed into something different today.
    What is significant today is not entirely the same as then. Listen to one of the archived and charming late 1940s or 50s radio broadcasts and you will note the dislocation between these periods. It was a nice time, but nice times are not timeless. What is significant in photography today relates to such things as the mindset and receptivity of of the population or (especially) that of the contemporary museum directors and other cognoscente. The less subjective criteria they may apply in choosing your work is not based upon traditional criteria and not on the work of Ronis or Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand (yes, they will run those exhibitions, of course, but that is in large part due to the time delay between the acceptance of new art and the continuing run of what is popular art in the imaginations of the public). If you are working in the present it behoves you to be yourself, but also to be as advanced in concepts as the contemporaries and not saddled to the past benchmarks of what constitutes significant photography. Significant photography is a moving target in my opinion, just as yesterday's art may be charming and still draw crowds, but real evolution in art requires originality and not the ability to undestand and copy past references.
    One criteria that I apply in judging significance in photographic work is simply that, the exhibition or not of originality by the photographer. The landmines appear in the former of clichés (subject matter, approaches, adherence to past styles or forms, past techniques, etc.). What is different about the new work? Does it move you in some new and partly unexpected way?
     
  38. Arthur - "Luis suggest a meatier word "Connoisseurship". It should be remembered that those claiming to be cognoscente or "critical judges" have historically missed the boat on many artists and movements."
    Arthur, knowledge and experience do not confer infallibility. That's an absurdity reserved for Popes, demigods, and Gods. The thing to remember is that all mere men are not equal. Some know more about certain things than others, or have greater experience, insight, etc. Everything is not equally distributed. Everybody knows something.
    Arthur - "Luis, it may sound trivial, but I welcome late breakfasts like the charms of silences or repeated themes in music. Unhurried. Enjoy."
    Thank you, Arthur. After a long day with friends, and managing to get in a few pictures, it's a perfect ending to a great day.
    _____________________________
    Steve - "Luis spoke of some aspects of this discussion distilling down to "how do I make a great photo". That certainly may be a part of it, but for me there is a distinction between how "I" make a "great" photo, and how I determine if a photo I am viewing is great (I prefer "significant" since "great" seems a bit over the top.)."
    I would agree with that distinction -- and submit that there's a heavy link 'tween the two.
    Steve - "...ones final "judgement" of their significance."
    The Fat Lady never really sings on these things. No matter how much you know, how many photographs, portfolios, shows and sites you see a month, how many photographers, critics, gallery owners you talk with, etc., if you have an inkling of what it is to be human and the meaning of humility, you know you have blind spot(s) and that there's a chance something could be so far ahead of its time, that as Herbert Marcuse said, it would be invisible. In the history of photography, including our own time, it's happened. For all we know it is probably happening right now. One clue, historically, is that those things usually (but not always) intensely disturb experts, particularly those that read them wrongly. They almost always elicit strong reactions, not yawns, and that's one flag to keep an eye out for.
    _________________________
    Anders - "Many other non-trivial photos exist and might be in our own portfolios..."
    Or in our reject files. Often photographers aren't so good at editing their own work, and no, I am not suggesting that they shouldn't, because that's an integral part of the process. But it's not a bad idea to let a 2nd pair of trusted (and ruthless) eyes sift through our trashpiles. As with the work of others, sometimes our imagination gets ahead of our own capacity for understanding, ahead of our own time. I've seen many photographers, myself included, react strongly (negatively) to some of these images. Years later, going back to see how a great idea was leaking into our workflow, out of left field.
    ________________________
     
  39. However, if someone can decompose the image of one of our historic greats, that would be useful and might establish some of the parameters we use in deciding what is significant as opposed to banal.​
    I have a hard enough time deconstructing a photo, famous or otherwise, let alone "decomposing" it. ;)
    "North Wind" the barn. What am I seeing? A dilapidated barn with falling shingles in midafternoon light. A 3/4 view with a hint of horizon at lower right. Other than that there is little frame of reference for its surroundings. Rural, certainly, and as to be expected from such a structure. On its own, hard to say what the intent was (pretending I know nothing of the photographer or what they've said about it). There is a harsh quality to it, both in terms of what the barn has undergone, and the quality of the light in which it was photographed. Decay, abandonment, sadness perhaps. In a larger sense it could stand as a metaphor for the decay and abandonment of a way of life, a period of time. But this would be better served if this was a series of such structures in a body of work which made that point more clearly. Or, I can shrug and say it's a picture of a barn with the bottom part cut off and leave it at that. Which is it?
    Anders, "no title", the b&w street scene. A fence at night, some type of framed ads? photos? reflections? apparently a number of them, receding into the distance..a man and woman walk away in the distance, the man carrying some bags, long shadows thrown by the street light. But the image is dominated by the (I honestly don't know what it is) framed piece. It is almost like looking through the window of a restaurant or a bus, though the head of one man is too large (it appears to give off its own reflection within the image) and there is a figure, much smaller, of a man running with a bag or briefcase. An echo of the distant man carrying the bags next to the woman? It's a complex image, which may or may not serve it. It's pregnant with meaning, or it's "too busy". It may be "trivial" or "banal" if it's too busy and unclear. It may be significant in some way if the elements of the image on the fence, and the distant couple are linked in some way. Or it is a metaphor for the complexity of modern life.
    Eggelston's tricycle. A tricycle in a suburban driveway. Certainly looks banal. The merest peek of a car's front end at right seems to be waiting for an ardent critic on the PN critique forum to pronounce it as "distracting and it should be cropped out". The angle of view is from ground level, distorting the tricycle and making it dominating, almost menacing in its distorted size. "Monolithic" comes to mind and that, to me, is a large part of its appeal. Someone else take it from there...if they feel like it.
    http://williamyan.com/storage/willi....jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1262663890039
    The Fat Lady never really sings on these things. No matter how much you know, how many photographs, portfolios, shows and sites you see a month, how many photographers, critics, gallery owners you talk with, etc., if you have an inkling of what it is to be human and the meaning of humility, you know you have blind spot(s) and that there's a chance something could be so far ahead of its time, that as Herbert Marcuse said, it would be invisible. In the history of photography, including our own time, it's happened. For all we know it is probably happening right now. One clue, historically, is that those things usually (but not always) intensely disturb experts, particularly those that read them wrongly. They almost always elicit strong reactions, not yawns, and that's one flag to keep an eye out for.​
    Yes! Seems obvious when you say it (particularly the last, bolded), but not something I had thought of.
     
  40. jtk

    jtk

    "Which brings me to comment "When I see old barn photos I think "hobbiest photographer" and when I see wildly painted houses I think "maybe this has some potential." This is a very categoric, generlized and "collimated" as view, which you may well also apply to other subject matter in photography." - Arthur.
    Please Arthur, you're the wrong guy to complain about "obfuscation." :)
    Yes, I do apply my own individual frames of reference to photography ( the P.N ratings system trains the exact opposite, therefore there are plenty of barn snaps). I value "maybe" and "potential" over studies in decaying wood and interpretive pretenses. But that's just me :)
    btw, you used "collimated" decoratively, I'll grant...but wrongly. It has very specific meaning in optics (lens repairmen do collimation), hence especially in photography (ie here).
     
  41. Eggleston keeps coming back around, and with good reason: when someone produces an extraordinary image of an ordinary subject, the rest of us are forced to rethink the concept of the banal.
    Evaluating Eggleston's work presents its own challenges, as shown by the problem of determining which copy of the "The Red Ceiling" is really anywhere close to what he was trying to capture. Thus can one read his own description of it as "blood red' and then go to the Getty site, only to get this:
    http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=134392&handle=li
    I don't think that the problem is with my monitor on this one--although I will never know for sure.
    As for the tricycle, yes, indeed, Steve: "monolithic" seems to sum it pretty well, if one only gets to use one word.
    This thread is not quite about either banality or trivia, Arthur. You've given us a good one.
    --Lannie
     
  42. John,
    I stand tall by my statement regarding what I considered your "collimated" view, and of your simple generalised categorisation of barn photos and coloured houses. Yes, I know optics quite well from research as well as photography, but my free use here of the term was intended as an analogy for a "blinkered" view. Much of what you say I often agree with, but when you go off the rails in making simplistic statements about barn photos and coloured houses, I cannot restrain my own critical impulses.
    Steve,
    I hope you realise that the photos presented in this thread so far have in fact been examples of banal or trivial images, and presented as such by myself and other posters. The 3rd party Eggleston photo may say something more through its use of so called perspective distortion and the simple contrast of an elephantine presence of an otherwise very small tots vehicle, but it hasn't yet grabbed me like it might do some. Perhaps it is part of that banal art movement John was speaking of.
    Hopefully, someone may take up the challenge of showing a well known third party iconic photograph and concurrently provide their analysis of it (by deconstructing or decomposing the image, or whatever term you like to use for such step by step evaluation, or any other analysis) and thereby set out a few "less subjective" qualifications for a significant image. A fairly well known 3rd party image is I believe preferred, as it will allow others to do the same analysis and perhaps even assemble some general observations about what the participants feel are important parameters in describing a significant image.
    This latter challenge, at least for me, is key to this OP question. The results are coming in, aided by Fred's list and also some other points, but I hope the discussion will heat up and evolve even more so, even it requires an asbestos suit.
     
  43. Arthur: I hope you realise that the photos presented in this thread so far have in fact been examples of banal or trivial images, and presented as such by myself and other posters.
    Of course. But should they automatically be treated as such? Could they not be seen, either alone or as part of a body of work, as something more? If we see the significant in the banal as presented by the well known, why do we not make the same attempt with the lesser known? Your barn was not in the same style as the Americana of Stephen Shore, but could it not be seen in a similar way as part of a body of work of rural decay? Strip away the significance that is sometimes automatically afforded the work of a well known photographer ("It's a photo by X, there must be something to it.") and maybe we can find what the underlying criteria is that makes such and such a work truly rise above its initial seeming banality.
    Or approach it from the other direction. Why are some of the images that have been posted banal?
    A fairly well known 3rd party image is I believe preferred, as it will allow others to do the same analysis and perhaps even assemble some general observations about what the participants feel are important parameters in describing a significant image.
    This latter challenge, at least for me, is key to this OP question.​
    This would be an interesting exercise. I attempted to begin it with Eggleston's tricycle. But I went about as far as I could. I am not a critic, nor am I a connoisseur. I would really like to hear what others see, or don't see, in that image. Or let it be some other "well known" image that might initially seem banal. It doesn't have to be Eggleston. I only chose him because his were the first suitably banal images by a well known photographer that came to mind.
     
  44. Arthur - "If you are working in the present it behooves you to be yourself,"
    This sounds easier than it is. In a basic way, it is all one can ever be, but the self is not a discrete, solid entity, like a sphere, for example. It is more of an interactive, porous, living smear, range or cloud of potentials that distill, precipitate or collapse into a minimal subset in actuality at any given moment.
    [This is one thing that Fred addresses beautifully, in his own way, on a regular basis in his posts]
    It also behooves one to cultivate himself.
    "The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are."

    --- Ernst Haas
    If you want your photographs to change, change what you are.
    Arthur - "...but also to be as advanced in concepts as the contemporaries and not saddled to the past benchmarks of what constitutes significant photography. Significant photography is a moving target in my opinion, just as yesterday's art may be charming and still draw crowds, but real evolution in art requires originality and not the ability to undestand and copy past references."
    This is almost an idealized Modernist statement (saddled to the past!). Those who are saddled to contemporary benchmarks are also in trouble. The problem is not what you put the saddle on, it's being saddled.
    Significant photography is not a target. It is not something outside of yourself to aim and fire something. It's not a possession.
    "Real evolution" takes many paths in art, as it does in biology. Originality, believe it or not, is not required. See Richard Prince here:
    http://www.gagosian.com/artists/richard-prince/
    Those who are enslaved to the past are doomed to repeat it, as are those who aren't aware of it. Transformative appropriation or conceptual work is nothing new. In fact, it's mainstream nowadays.
    __________________________
    Fred's list was his own. Each of us sees what they are (as viewers and photographers) and thus has to work up their own ideas. [Didn't we just do this what makes a good picture thing?]
    There are no lists or recipes. You have to make your own way.
     
  45. What is significant in photography today relates to such things as the mindset and receptivity of of the population or (especially) that of the contemporary museum directors and other cognoscente. The less subjective criteria they may apply in choosing your work is not based upon traditional criteria and not on the work of Ronis or Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand​
    Arthur, I must must be dangerously bad in formulating myself. How can you believe one second that I would not agree with you that our mindsets are different from those of our parents and grandparents in the fifties when the iconic photos I referred to was pick out as non-trivial. No, Arthur, the whole point of my argument is that: here we have examples of photos that seem to have played out the role of non-trivial and I asked the question WHY? Two questionings emerge on that basis:
    One which you yourself mention, but which you seem to reject: Whether such iconic photos before "here-and-now" still are non-trivial also for us and whether they are only interesting for us to show what the old days were like; or, as I would suggest, such photos have also universal value that make them travel across times, reaching us as still significant icons for us too;
    Secondly, the question of what specific criteria are inherently linked to our times. As mentioned above, the main category of criteria are in my eyes related to the context in which the photos are taken (historicism) some of which become universal.
    I'm convinced that the current social, economic and ideological turmoil we all are confronted to have profound influence on what criteria we currently would attribute to our times in order to identify the "non-trivial" of the decennium. It might be criteria of anomy (and then I would understand the subjective extremism that is exhibited here and there) or it might be criteria announcing that we live in a time of non-criteria: everything is trivial or nothing is.
    I would personally opt for a understanding of criteria of icons that travel with us across times and linked to some elements of human nature, our social being, our hopes and fears as human beings in a social world. And on the other hand criteria that are much more rooted in an expression of the specific historical phase we presently live. Both categories of criteria are in play when identifying non-trivial photos.
    Please bare in mind that I have not approach the question of how a photo travels from being a non-trivial photo for ME to become a "non-trivial photo as such".
     
  46. Arthur, one more remark to your comments. When you write
    What is significant today is not entirely the same as then​
    it might be interesting to see what is happening in contemporary art just for the moment. I use all my available time these days in the yearly contemporary art fair FIAC in Paris with almost 300 galleries and the works of some between 3-4000 artists on show - many of them photographers by the way.
    One impression I get, and some experts in the field have mentioned explicitly, is that geometric abstracts are coming back inspired by the 50s. Is photography happening in another world where what were made and inspired artist and viewers yesterday is not any more relevant for what is made less trivial today ?
    I think that a more nuanced approach is needed in the field in order to answer your basic question of less subjective criteria of the trivial/non-trivial.
    I know that most of you are probably presently in your sweat dreams - so I'm debating with myself !
     
  47. This thread seems to me to be an effort to put art on a scale and weigh it for its "use" value. For its utilitarian, information (what has it done for me lately?) value.
    Art does not belong on that (or any) scale. If any weighing is to be done, art IS the (or a) scale. Art is the process (or a process) of the eternal making/morphing of that scale itself.
     
  48. Anders, "touché", a more nuanced approach is indeed desirable. I may have provoked (exaggerated) a little too much, in the interests of generating discussion, but, like you, I am searching for some novel feedback regarding what are considered by many to be significant images, and, especially, why? As I think Luis says, there are various criteria (but I am sorry, I have catch up to do on the recent contributions to the discussion, and don't want to misrepresent anyone's views, but have to take a break until later in view of local events). There is also the fact that any one image is sometimes not enough in regard to an overall body of work (as Steve mentions). Julie makes a valuable point about the difficulty of "measuring" what a work of art is. My intention in the OP is not to ask about that, but rather to better understand why specific observers and photographers (y'all) think a particular work of art or photograph is significant (or at the other end, trivial). What qualities do you see that make it rise above the crowd? I know some of these qualities, of course, but which do you (and me), as the observer of a work of art, apply in specific cases (and ones that we might all relate to - as I believe is an exercise (utilitarian if it must be) in seeing what impresses one or all).
    Anders, a lucky man. Who would not love to see that Paris exhibition (or just Paris)?
     
  49. "Real evolution" takes many paths in art, as it does in biology. Originality, believe it or not, is not required. See Richard Prince here:
    http://www.gagosian.com/artists/richard-prince/
    Those who are enslaved to the past are doomed to repeat it, as are those who aren't aware of it. Transformative appropriation or conceptual work is nothing new. In fact, it's mainstream nowadays.​
    You are a brave man, Luis. I still bear the scars from the last time I brought up Richard Prince in this forum. Good times. ;-)
    I think Julie, Luis, and Anders in a way (with his nuanced approach, a valid point) are saying, each in their way, that we're attempting to know the unknowable. Obvious, of course. I don't think any of us, least of all Arthur, really expects that we're going to come up with any kind of "target" or "scale". But the journey, the evolution of a thread, the asides and branches and digressions, can be entertaining, illuminating, thought provoking. We struggle, dance around the edges, trying to nail that damn jello to the wall.
     
  50. I am searching for some novel feedback regarding what are considered by many to be significant images, and, especially, why?​
    Arthur, I confess that,although I like Eggleston's tricycle shot (in large part because the image of the huge child toy dwarfs the suburban homes behind it), I was a bit surprised to find that he himself characterized his "The Red Ceiling" (or "Greenwood, Mississippi") as "so powerful that, in fact, I've never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction."
    "The Red Ceiling":
    http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=134392&handle=li
    The Tricyle shot (by whatever title):
    http://williamyan.com/storage/william_eggleston_tricycle.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1262663890039
    In other words, he found the blood-red ceiling so powerful--but also so non-reproducible--that he has thereby rendered himself invulnerable against all criticisms of it: the rest of us cannot see just how powerful that red really is. I appreciate the challenge of working with red. I appreciate the force and power that the photograph might have had for him and others.
    I cannot find such great power in it myself, and that is hardly a lament.
    --Lannie
     
  51. We struggle, dance around the edges, trying to nail that damn jello to the wall.​
    And then, Steve, we call our failed efforts "art," when in fact what has often been created is simply a mess by another name. I can almost guarantee that, if one of the "greats" actually did try to get an image of jello nailed to the wall, a good number of critics and aficionados/sycophants would "ooh" and "ah" and then proceed to pull out their checkbooks.
    The mind boggles at group behavior in both politics and the arts--not to mention in academe, my own self-chosen hell at times.
    Intellectual fashion comes and goes in all realms, but I can see no rules for its comings or its goings.
    --Lannie
     
  52. I agree Steve we risk to be on a voyage to know the unknowable.

    I hate to refer to current research with the obvious risk of public lapidation, but researchers are in fact saying that contemporary art is characterized by the undecidable (ref. Jacques Rancière, 2004) due to a significant and growing grey area between art and non-art.
    Bare with me, but I'm going to quote a recent text in some length:
    "What we gather from this undecidability .. is a multiplicity of zones where border lines are blurred - if not wiped away all together - between the artist and the notion of the object, between the world of fiction and reality, between the real and the fake, between aesthetic and political positions, between art and non-art..... Cases of contemporary production are manifest at various thresholds of reality, of plausibility, or of art, and sometimes use a variety of effects to either confuse or convince us.

    In the current cultural context , it seems clear to us that what may be defined as undecidable cannot be associated with a single identity , an single territory, or a fixed and unchangeable narrative. There prevails in the often elusive production of contemporary artists a flow of relationships and movements between objects truth and certainties. Hence the emphasis on the gaps and displacements of contemporary art rather than in contemporary art, for one senses that these gaps and displacements are integral to the very nature of the art being done today, beyond the specific characteristics of a production that might belong to a place or a period. (T. St-Gelais, 2010)​
    Where does that leave us when it comes to our search for criteria of trivial/non-trivial. I think the least one can conclude is that the span of works to be considered is constantly expanding. But, still I see no researchers or commentators that would risk to draw conclusions that abrogate the category of art or non-trivial work (read photos) by announcing that everything is art and non-trivial or everything is non-art and trivial.
    There are commercial criteria out there that conclude beyond the gray zone of "undecidability". In fact, with reference to the above mention FIAC art fair in Paris, the whole world market of contemporary art depends on it, and has always done since its invention starting in 1960. Whether we as photographers relate to that market or not, the fact that it functions by such criteria, informs us that they exist.
    Other criteria are more difficult to detect but works (again, read photos) that are playing the games described in the quoted text above can be considered non-trivial due to their role in such games. Photos that can be situated in relation to the "gaps and displacements of contemporary art" are such non-trivial photos.
    Or, am I wrong and totally lost for reasoning ????
    PS. Luis, I promise to step on the ball again !!
     
  53. jtk

    jtk

    1) Outright goofy use of a scientific term ("collimation") is Bushoid, at best. That there's a kernal upon which to rationalize ("I stand tall") does not justify the obfuscation. I strongly suggest "The Craft of Clarity, A Journalistic Approach to Good Writing" by Robert M. Knight (which I will read again, starting next week.
    2) I actually do see potential (important to me) in Lannie's house and Arthur's roof (even though it is a barn :). One is perfect as-is, can be a lot more, displayed in context. The other can be more than a crumbling textural study, aggressively post processed and printed in some particular way, and just as necessarily displayed in context.
    Might print Arthur's barn in B&W (my kneejerk), keep the sky dark, open the dark side a little if the file allows, tilting it a degree or two to the left (unbalancing it)...I can imagine contexts for exhibit (one might involve ravens, architecture, heavy weather etc). As an individual image (as seen here) it seems a fine sketch of textures and colors and clearly has potential...currently it's half-way, like a color negative (hopefully it's PSD, TIFF or DNG), waiting to be used/abused or ignored. But I'd probably use Lannie's image as-is in a related context.
    3) Recognizing the historic significance of Eggleston and banal photos generally, I now tend to respond to it much the way I respond to Ansel Adams imagery. Neither are satisfying for long. Nice kung pao chicken... I'm hungry again, 10 minutes later.
    I wonder if anybody else here thinks in terms of print making, and how they might use Lannie's or Arthur's images.
     
  54. jtk

    jtk

  55. I wonder if anybody else here thinks in terms of print making, and how they might use Lannie's or Arthur's images.
    Now, John, you know that my blue house shot is far too powerful to capture in print, much less to reproduce for you guys. (By the way, that blue house stands alone and is not part of the structure behind it--context again, etc.)
    I am all too aware of how most people would use my blue house in print. . . if Epson paper were available just a bit softer.
    --Lannie
     
  56. "In other words, he found the blood-red ceiling so powerful--but also so non-reproducible--that he has thereby rendered himself invulnerable against all criticisms of it: the rest of us cannot see just how powerful that red really is." --Lannie
    Let me hazard a guess. Eggleston was lamenting the fact that most viewers would not see his original prints and that, in a book of reproductions, much of that photo is lost. He's right, which I learn every time I go to a museum and see photos and paintings that I've only seen in books.
    Absence of defensiveness gets added to the list. Who is it that defends against criticism? If one expects to please everyone, one is probably not being a very genuine photographer/artist. I strive to free myself and viewers not to like or understand my work. The more defensive I feel about a photo, the more likely I haven't actually accomplished something significant. I doubt Eggleston was defending his photo. At the same time, criticism can help. There's the rub.
    Lannie, there may be something in Eggleston's ceiling that is not in your blue house. Your blue house likely doesn't want that same something . . .
    Art and photographs are easy to give up on, especially because they're (supposedly) so "subjective." Asserting my taste and simultaneously realizing how confining taste can be is part of the challenge. I value photographs and paintings and simultaneously realize that they change values and taste. (I understand this to be at least part of what Julie was getting at.) Saying confidently "I've had enough" and being able to say humbly "I haven't, I have to try harder, I want to see more in this photo," is part of the challenge.
     
  57. Lannie, there may be something in Eggleston's ceiling that is not in your blue house.​
    Nahh! Everybody knows my blue house is a masterpiece, Fred. When is the art world going to wake up?! (Thanks anyway, Fred.)
    I do think that it merits more work, however, perhaps needing to be shot at a different time of day from a different angle, so that one can see that the house is a tiny and separate structure--its only real source of appeal for me, apart from the "baby-blueness" to which Julie referred.
    Guys, remember that I posted the blue house as an example of banality. . . . Even so, at your behest, I will work on it, or on a sequence of other shots of the cute little structure. There's nothing that I have posted on this site that would not have been better if re-shot and re-worked, but where does one find the time? Thanks for the encouragement nonetheless.
    Let's move on to photos of some import and common recognition, as Arthur suggested. . . .
    Eggleston is a very good start, but surely there are others in the pantheon whom we have been neglecting.
    --Lannie
     
  58. Fred, as for Eggleston and his red ceiling shot, I recognize the validity of what you have said. I just don't care for the shot that much. I think that even great artists can confuse the meaning that they have found in striving for a particular effect with the meaning that the rest of us are likely to find in it, no matter how refined (or not) our artistic sentiments.
    I also think that the greats are not immune to what tends to afflict the rest of us: to feel more for a particular work simply because it is ours--our experience the day of the shooting, our efforts in post-processing, our vision of what we were trying to achieve, etc. It is hard tendency to escape, if escape is ever possible.
    I do sometimes wish that I could go back and re-shoot every shot in my portfolio. I can always see the flaws, and they drive me crazy, especially those that were just the result of bad technique at the time of shooting. I'm an impatient sort, and art does not yield to impatience--except for perhaps Van Gogh and a few others. Since I don't drink, when frustrated I simply go imbibe in another glimpse through the viewfinder of something else. It's a vice, or, as Marc Gougenheim (Marc G. here on PN) told me years ago: "You take too many photos." I know.
    Or maybe I shoot too few. I don't know. I know that my technique stinks most of the time, and my "eye" is good but not great.
    Now, onward and upward: which other great photographer do we home in on now?
    --Lannie
     
  59. Steve,
    eventually many things said by artists should be taken by us with a grain of salt. Those of Prince's images I have seen speak of originalty. Pehaps he was thinking of others?
    Here is what the comment on the site you linked us to says about him (a fragment thereof):
    "Applying his understanding of the complex transactions of representation to the making of art, he evolved a unique signature filled with echoes of other signatures yet that is unquestionably his own."
    Lannie, in regard to the image "Red ceiling" you said:
    "I cannot find such great power in it myself, and that is hardly a lament."
    I agree entirely. So it may be difficult for us to find an artist or photographer whom we respect adequately to discuss their seminal works.
    As an optimist of sorts, I do believe that we can eventually find some works that move us enough to permit our qualifying them in terms that might be enlightening to each other. I see little measuring or scaling of art value in that exercise, only the potential transparency and naturalness of our own human responses to it.
    Of course, there is no obligation to (want to) arrive at that state.
     
  60. jtk

    jtk

    "... qualifying them in terms that might be enlightening to each other."\

    Appreciation may be the best thing (other than money and love) photographers can hope for. "Qualifying...in terms" seems an obstacle to "enlightening" and to appreciation...
     
  61. The light's not on so the small reflection, the hot spot in the ceiling and on the fixture and also the shadows are coming from elsewhere, not this bulb. Wires, usually hidden (by interior designers and photographers) are primary. The boldness of white against red. I shouldn't care but I can't turn away. It's NOT the subject . . . and, of course, it is. The perspective doesn't point me toward the bare bulb, it becomes my own. I've become even taller.
    Redness and light bulbs are symbols. Do with them what you will (or won't). But the red is deep and its being in shadow deepens it. I can feel INTO the red. There's an implied continuity of line in the wires and moldings, yet there are breaks as well, tension and resolution. Rhythm. Jazz? Not classical.
    I like the skew. It unbalances me but I don't even have to notice it because it doesn't play on any expectations of parallel lines. Who would have even thought of parallel lines in this frame?
    It's human because I'm in it, I'm included. There are even illustrated people. It has humanity . . . and is not a portrait. Imagine that!
    My projections, from the gut: I am alone here. Like the light. A little weary, a little tired, a little disheveled, but really with some character. So I'm OK. Am I high? Is the ceiling low? Am I on a ladder? Is there enough of the doorway shown? Well, I suppose there just might be. Rules? What a laugh!
    Phylo comes to mind. Does this help me understand what it means for the photograph to be the subject? Could that be the secret? A mundane subject doesn't have to portend a mundane photo. That's the transformation. From the mundane to . . . the sublime? (Don't start, Lannie! And no pics of naked women, please.) But more, a mundane subject is an excuse to explore making photographs not be about reality while they are very much about reality. What is it? A light bulb on a ceiling. Yes . . . and no. It's perspective and color and I don't give a darn about the light bulb except because it was there and something around which a PHOTO could be made. A seeing, not a seeing of . . . maybe?
    My metaphor (MY metaphor) for this photo is the cream rising to the top. My reaction (MY reaction) may well have to do with my being tall and having felt a certain way in some rooms. Your reaction will likely be different, especially if you're not tall or maybe if you're confined to a wheelchair. But that doesn't tell me the reactions are merely subjective. Because the reactions are still to perspective and even to subject matter, which is, after all, at least in part, a ceiling (which goes nicely with perspective).
    _______________________________
    I don't want consensus. I want individuality. Criteria lead to the former. Descriptions lead to the latter.
    Contradiction: There are connoisseurs. They often achieve consensus, which I appreciate. I trust them unless I don't. Just like I trust most plumbers with my pipes, unless they're crooks. Because this photo has value to me, I want to convey that to you. I'd like it to have some value to you, especially if you have an interest in photographs more than a passing fancy. That's part of the sharing part of the story. But I'll survive if you don't get it. I care a lot less whether or not you like it. I pretty much expect that you will react differently to it. And I'm a little more invested in your giving it value.
     
  62. jtk

    jtk

  63. John,
    North Wind, like Lannie maintains for his blue house, is submitted as a banal or trivial image. I have recognised it as that, but somehow you want to turn it (or the two) into a significant photo. I am sure both Lannie and I would simply say good luck to you. We are talking in the OP about trivial and significant images. Some are very reticent to provide their feelings about photos of others that they consider significant. We now have two or more trivial images as examples. It's slow going, but maybe we will still get somewhere.....Significant photos, like significant art using other media are above all both individual and original, and often quite different different from the mainstream.
    Fred,
    if you look closely at the Eggleston red ceiling you may note that the light is not on and note that the shadow coming from elsewhere, as well as the highlights on the lamp base, are due to another artificial light source, and very likely the flash of the photographer.
    I am not adverse to looking more intently and inquisitively at images such as this, because that can often allow other layers of an image to present themselves, but I am afraid that doing so here will probably just induce sleep. I do respect your reaction to it and would love to chat with the connoisseurs that placed it high on the list of art desirables. Maybe they would elaborate oon its effectiveness as an image.
     
  64. "if you look closely at the Eggleston red ceiling you may note that the light is not on and note that the shadow coming from elsewhere, as well as the highlights on the lamp base, are due to another artificial light source"
    OY VEY, Arthur. You're not reading carefully. Since that's exactly what I said. Here it is reproduced and made bold for your consideration from my above post:
    "The light's not on so the small reflection, the hot spot in the ceiling and on the fixture and also the shadows are coming from elsewhere, not this bulb."
     
  65. My apologies Fred, I might have read your text more carefully. The correction doesn't do much though to make the image any more significant, or interesting, for me, and I do try to appreciate images for what they are. It won't stop me from looking at his other images, unless I encounter the same type of visual communication.
     
  66. ARE WESTON'S NUDES BANAL?
    Yes, Arthur, my blue house pic was offered as an example of the mundane, the banal. Even so, as Fred says, "a mundane subject does not necessarily have to portend a mundane photo." I might go back to the house to see if I can capture something special. I don't think that I got it yet. I am quite sure of that, in fact--and so the photo as well as the subject remain in the realm of the banal. Version twenty-three or version fifty-nine might actually get over the hump into something that I would be happy to hang on the wall. The blue house on Eleventh St. just west of Main is only a few miles away. I might keep trying. I might not. It is not that compelling or promising a subject, to be frank, although it sure caught my attention with that late afternoon sun bouncing off of it.
    Fred, to continue your quote, I loved this allusion to our debates on the "power and glory" (or is it sublimity?) of nudes: "A mundane subject doesn't have to portend a mundane photo. That's the transformation. From the mundane to . . . the sublime? (Don't start, Lannie! And no pics of naked women, please.)"
    Well, now, if I thought that a picture of a naked woman would pick up the pace of discussion and growth of intellectual insight, I might even post one myself. First I should have to take one. Perhaps I could talk a friend or colleague into taking her clothes off for the sake of education and edification. (I won't touch the issue of the "sublime," Fred, out of regard for your metaphysical sensitivities.) Actually, I am rather surprised (now that I think about it) that nudes have not come up in the discussion of the banal in photography.
    Let me return to Arthur's question for a moment: "telling the banal visual expression from a photograph possessing a bountiful or more meaningful expression?" Could nudes qualify as "possessing a bountiful or more meaningful expression?" Well, to answer my own question, of course they could. Do they? Well, from what I have seen on Photo.net, most are about as banal as they can get. If one could get into the given subject, perhaps one would be able to see the force behind the photo. Most of the time it is not there for me, at least not as art.
    It's late. Let me cut to the chase and see if minds better than mine have any thoughts on the matter regarding yet another true master of photography:
    Are Edward Weston's nudes banal?
    And now I am off to bed, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.
    --Lannie
     
  67. Lannie, it all depends on what you bring to the Weston nude.
    When I say that art IS the scale, what I mean is that art finds, reveals, what the viewer has in him/her; what he/she brings to the experience of the art. If I bring an object of unknown weight to a scale, the scale will find and reveal to me the weight that is in that object. If the object has no weight, that absence of weight will be revealed. Ditto for all the other meters and scales and measuring, sounding, tools for bringing to understanding what is not evident otherwise. Those devices are not what is revealed; what is revealed is some property or aspect or feature of the thing that is brought to the device. Art is the device. You are the thing.
    What is being revealed, made apparent, made known? It doesn't have to have a name. We don't know what "energy" IS but we don't mind using it anyway and we sure have a lot of ideas about, and care about, and respond to what it is "like."
    Lannie has no "weight" on the scale of Eggleston's picture. Fred almost breaks the scale.
    Don't feel bad, Lannie. As has been pointed out, you can find examples of people who didn't "get" x, y, or z everywhere. For example, this is Kandinsky talking about Monet's haystacks: "The catalogue told me that this was a haystack. But I could not recognize it, which I thought embarrassing. I also felt that the painter had no right to paint so unrecognizably."
    Poetry is about this kind of revelation. WCW's "so much depends ... " for example. Actually, it's hard to find examples of poetry that doesn't intend to bring from the reader what he/she had not or could not explicitly realize before or without it.
     
  68. Julie - "If the object has no weight, that absence of weight will be revealed. Ditto for all the other meters and scales and measuring, sounding, tools for bringing to understanding what is not evident otherwise. Those devices are not what is revealed; what is revealed is some property or aspect or feature of the thing that is brought to the device. Art is the device. You are the thing."
    Normally, I'm not crazy about mechanistic analogues regarding art, but this is a good one. I would like to add that something is revealed about the 'device' when it is used: Does it work? Does it detect the presence of that which it is designed to detect? Amplitude, magnitude, and other qualities?
    Most measurement devices have some kind of calibration/implied or explicit standards, 'zero' and scales (which come in many forms). The absence of this in Art bothers a lot of people.
     
  69. It would be interesting to hear someone who doesn't like the Eggleston photo make the attempt to find value in it or at least actually describe what they're seeing . . . perhaps despite taste. It might be an exercise a little like debating on the opposing side in order to become a better debater. I think that takes a kind of willingness (which I don't always give to photos I don't like), the same kind of willingness it takes to really listen to a peer or a connoisseur. We've discussed the value of Descartes's doubt in other places and at least paid it lip service. How often do we doubt our taste (or perhaps even work to overcome it)? Does taste help us arrive at what Arthur is talking about in the OP, truth or seeing bountifully, or does taste keep that from us . . . or a little of each?
     
  70. jtk

    jtk

    Weston's nudes are of at least three types. "Artistic," "political" (nudes with gas masks), and yes, banal.
    Many seem banal, are perhaps mostly records of friendships and sexual relations. That's a lot, of course, perhaps more important than "art." That lot is often commented upon negatively here in Photo.net...not sufficiently "Artistic." Think for a moment: if you see a lot of it (eg at home), isn't nudity itself banal?
    Julie, there is no such thing as THE Weston nude and although we all bring our own stuff to every image we see, EW clearly took several extremely different approaches...eros was at play in all of them, but in different ways. For example, the nudes with gas masks are routinely derided by know-nothings, but isn't that a startling kind of "statement" by someone who also produced nudes that were comparably erotic to peppers?
     
  71. John, I didn't say "THE"; I said "the." But since you dare me to find "such a thing" ... what I come up with is that Weston's nudes are "familiar" to me. I always feel like I recognize the gesture, the posture, the pose; I recognize them viscerally, in my skin.
    This as opposed to most other nudes (not by Weston) that feel strictly out or over there. Exotic, alien, cold or at least at a distance.
    Weston's seem like kin. Warm. Real. Close.
     
  72. Luis, I'm pondering "calibration." I've been looking at Robert Franks' proofs in the Extended Edition of The Americans and trying to feel the difference between the shots he used and the ones he didn't. Mostly thinking about the ones he didn't.
     
  73. It would be interesting to hear someone who doesn't like the Eggleston photo make the attempt to find value in it or at least actually describe what they're seeing . . . perhaps despite taste.​
    Fred, for many of us certain Eggleston pictures simply do not move us. It is not so much that we do not like them as that we are not particularly enamored of them. His work is always well-done and well thought out. It is not thereby always interesting to some of us.
    I happen to like the tricycle shot. The red ceiling shot is alright, but nothing special for me. I'm not sure that I would get much out of trying to go through any kind of exercise by way of trying to argue for it. I've looked at it over and over wondering why Eggleston himself found it so powerful. I can only conclude that it was the process of trying to get the colors right that was his biggest challenge. I can appreciate that to some extent, given the difficulties of making good prints. Even so, that was his struggle and his triumph, not mine. The final product does not move me, regardless of the technical expertise that went into it. What more can I say? I can only concede that perhaps his own original print would move me more than what I find in books and on the web.
    --Lannie
     
  74. Lannie, I should not have asked. Withdrawn!
     
  75. Nobody else gets a feeling of organ/meat from the Eggleston? The bulb and the chain? The white veins? Those pictures in the lower right? Of a den or lair? Of the claustrophobic stink of somebody else's personal history?
     
  76. Julie, I don't. I rarely would expect to get such a specifically similar reaction to another viewer. But there are ways in which our reactions are similar. For instance, I mentioned loneliness, you mention claustrophobia. I talked about the disheveled look, you describe a stink of someone's personal history. So, there's a difference of tone of voice and poetry in our descriptions but we seem to share a lot as well.
    Considering carefully (and visually) the photographic elements or tools that help elicit these reactions helps me learn the art of seeing and the effects of photographic choices. And I don't even know whether you like the photo!
     
  77. I've seen this picture of Eggleston's in print, in two different samples, out of what is probably an edition of 12. I did not get organ/meat from it, though I can understand how a carnivore :) could interpret those wires as marbling, but blood, passion, vitality, and a strong visceral feeling/response to it.
    Given W.E.'s truly extraordinary color sensitivity, it's easy to understand the gravity of his complaint about the difference between viewing this on screen and print.
    One thing to keep in mind about Eggleston. He's visually a descendant of Walker Evans, content-wise (which means Atget also). Formally he parted ways on the frontality, among other things. Cultural artifacts (specially signs) frequently inhabit Eggleston imagery, and as with so many other things, he's not dealing with the newest, latest, rarest, or most melodramatic, but the banal (although not when it comes to light). Eggleston is, conceptually, an aftermath photographer. He photographs what all of us have overlooked a thousand times, walked over, removed from the driveway, slept on, bathed in, cooked our meals in, etc.
    This picture will not seem like one of those, but keep in mind that it was not rare/spectacular/exotic to W.E. -- or the American South. In the course of my meanderings, I've been -- and stayed in -- (insert strains of House of the Rising Sun here) similar-looking rooms.
    He says he is "...at war with the obvious", and maybe he means the usual loud/exotic/sensational subjects and situations of commonplace/banal photography, but somehow his sensitivity to the common, banal, everyday things all of us have become desensitized to never extinguished. He kept himself alive where the rest of us became zombies.
    Ironically, since all but a handful of photographers are aware of, understand, or can effectively deal with the banal, this inverted the whole thing. The banal is largely invisible, not because of its newness, but the opposite: We are habituated to it. It's extremely difficult to photograph it, and as we see here on a regular basis, conceptual Orientalism is alive and well.
    Eggleston is a multifaceted, highly individuated man, an artist in several media, but in all of them, his brilliance, wit, grace, poetics, eccentricity, sensitivity, unbridled passion and love give his work its distinctive signature.
    Back to "Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973"... The symmetries and geometry of this image have W.E.'s signature graceful fluency of the oblique approach. Note how the corner in the background describes a "Y" on the vertical plane. The white power cords departing the ceiling fixture make a "Y" on the horizontal plane. My guess is that the photographer stood on a chair, since these light fixtures tend to be in the center of a room, though I would not be surprised if W.E. held his Leica and flash up at arm's length to do this, or levitated (!).
    That light fixture is a cultural artifact, in part, because it is telling us about the dwelling it is in, and its evolution. We can follow the wire to the far right, and it goes to feed electricity to another (fluorescent, which would have made the room seem a lot darker than the flash does, though it could have a black light bulb in it) white longitudinally-shaped light fixture where the wall meets the ceiling that has been added to the room. And, maybe moved after the room was painted, beause one can see an unpainted patch about the same shape as the fixture's footprint nearer to the corner. If one looks carefully, one can see a dab of the red paint on the fixture. The other cords likewise go to feed other devices. Why aren't they plugged into a wall fixture? Maybe because they're already stuffed with power strips? Or more likely because it's an old house, and the ancient (replaceable-type) fuses have had problems that haven't been fixed yet.
    On the lower left there's a dark rectangle that looks like it could be a door/frame, or a 3D object, like a shelf? Across from it, on the right-side wall, is a poster that was once quite popular, of sexual positions in fluorescent colors assigned to astrological signs. It hangs, not surprisingly, right under that light fixture.
    The flood of that blood-red color, the poster with sexual positions, cords, astrology, tensions raised between the organic and geometric composition, and above it all, the light bulb being out, say a lot with very little.
     
  78. One thing that is apparent in the Eggleston image is the enigma of what we don't see. And that by itself is not a very important response, certainly not incited by the image itself. What about what is there, what does that tell us? Three wires are plugged into the light standard, rather than to some other sockets, making the light a sort of procreator of the other lights attached to it (we don't see all of them). But this light is itself silenced, not excited by that common or primary electricity source. The hot red ceiling suggests that even though the light is not lit, the source of all this electricity is there, but oddly is not realised.
    Is this the paradox sought by the photographer? I think not, really, and I think that what we are TRYING to see in it is a bit too forced, whether it is Julie's, Fred's or my interpretation (sorry if I have missed other equally independent interpretations). I think that a more significant image would have induced a more common interpretation of the image than what we have seen here from the three of us. Induced? Yes, because I believe that powerful images can do this, even though the significance of the image might be nuanced and require a concentrated attempt to understand it (more than the fleeting glance).
    I wrote this before Luis' comment and find it interesting that he sees a similar relationship between the central and peripheral light fixtures.
     
  79. Luis, I'm not surprised by your articulate description of the photo. I get a lot out of hearing your concise ideas, clearly and specifically stated, and your lack of fluff. It will serve as a memorable example to me of how to write about photos and of visual literacy.
    Arthur, interesting that you've (at least in part) based the significance of a photo on your desire for it to have a more common "interpretation," and that interpretation by three people. By the way, when I used the metaphor "the cream rising to the top," a lot of what I had in mind was that the top (of the room) seems to be all we see. What's left out is significant to the photo (and is a matter of perspective, a distinctly photographic concern) and is incited by nothing but the photo, otherwise it wouldn't have come up in the context of the photo . . . and it's worth noting, given your concerns, that it came up for both of us. What any photographer leaves out of the frame has significance to what's in the frame. In this case, it's so obvious that a part of the room we would normally expect to see is not in view and is a blatant and highly effective use of what's not there.
     
  80. Click on "Portfolios":
    http://www.egglestontrust.com/
    This is not to say that the "Articles and Essays" link is not worthy as well, but first things first. . . .
    From what I can see, it is most definitely about color, as the artist himself claimed. Many of these are new to me, although obviously not to many of you.
    --Lannie
     
  81. When I say that art IS the scale, what I mean is that art finds, reveals, what the viewer has in him/her; what he/she brings to the experience of the art. If I bring an object of unknown weight to a scale, the scale will find and reveal to me the weight that is in that object. If the object has no weight, that absence of weight will be revealed. Ditto for all the other meters and scales and measuring, sounding, tools for bringing to understanding what is not evident otherwise. Those devices are not what is revealed; what is revealed is some property or aspect or feature of the thing that is brought to the device. Art is the device. You are the thing.​
    Julie, that was an interesting read, but, if I had to choose so starkly, I would go with Pythagoras:
    "Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not".
    There are yet other possibilities. I am not a relativist. . . except when it comes to art. Over-interpretation of art, especially forced interpretation, tires my soul. Most of all, I find it boring.
    So many subjects; so little time.
    Too many critics; not enough photographers.
    --Lannie
     
  82. Lannie, Julie is not playing critic, she's able to see, something that's probably good for a photographer to do.
    "Man is the measure of all things" has led man to rape the environment and endanger his very existence and, MORE IMPORTANTLY, the existence of the planet, the greater whole. (It was said by Protagoras.)
     
  83. But Landrum what you describe is in other context called apathy (why not here?), and is not to be recommended if one wants to understand, related to, or, if it is permitted to refer to it, make art. Little art has come about by just going out/or in there shooting. Little art can be "understood" by just passing by. It can, maybe in some cases, be felt using that message, but not understood, if you have such a need.
    If "Art is the device. You are the thing." as Julie quotes, is right - to me it sounds somewhat right in its shortness and clarity (John will love it!) - then apart from just announcing the relationship and repeating it over and over again like a prayer, it demands some kind of "interpretation" to understand art of others (the "device" and the "thing") - and maybe even more one's own production. Art without mentale efforts is just what it is : Procrastination.
     
  84. "From what I can see, it is most definitely about color, as the artist himself claimed." --Lannie
    Careful.
    Szarkowski:
    "Artists themselves tend to take absolutist and unhelpful positions when addressing themselves to questions of content, pretending with Degas that the work has nothing to do with ballet dancers, or pretending with James Agee that it has nothing to do with artifice. Both positions have the virtue of neatness, and allow the artist to answer unanswerable questions briefly and then get back to work. . . .

    I once heard Eggleston say that the nominal subjects of his pictures were no more than a pretext for the making of color photographs - the Degas position. I did not believe him, although I can believe that it might be an advantage to him to think so, or to pretend to think so. To me it seems that the pictures reproduced here are about the photographer's home, about his place, in both important meanings of that word. One might say about his identity.

    If this is true, it does not mean that the pictures are not also simultaneously about photography . . ."​
     
  85. Lannie, Lannie, Lannie ... I'll give you the short version of my response, which is, "Is not." And what Fred said.
    Luis. Dearie. Sweetheart. Sugar plum. You know I think the world of you. But for god's sake, you've taken Eggleston's wonderful feral meat-eater den reeking of sex and slaughter and turned it into a sterilized, sanitized, French-cut castrated Poodle. In my opinion.
     
  86. If we consider the four descriptions (Arthur, Fred, Julie, Luis), each has a personal touch. There are differences in tone of voice. They also differ with regard to taste. Yet, to me, there are overriding (or underlying) similarities in what we take away that's of significance (despite differences with what we then do about that or think about that or whether we state it with an over-the-top guttiness or a more staid and contemplative thoughtfulness or how we individually internalize what we've all up to that point shared because of the coherence of the photo).
    Luis hasn't turned this into anything. It's clearly the same photograph Julie, in her unique way, is describing.
     
  87. No matter how you slice it, folks, it is the human being who "weighs" the photo, not the reverse. Photos do not weigh anything. If you mean that how we respond to photos tells much about us, that is obvious and trivial--but who is going to be the ultimate interpreter of who sees clearly and insightfully, and who does not?
    As for Pythagoras, I am hardly a Pythagorean, but, if (I said) I had to choose between Julie's view and Pythagoras' view regarding art, then I would, as I said, have to go with Pythagoras. There is much more to be said (as I also said), but in no case does the photograph "weigh" or evaluate anything. Pythagoras would be a disastrous foundation for ethical theory. For esthetics? I can only say again that IF I had to choose between Pythagoras' view and Julie's view, then I would have to go with Pythagoras. Julie's view is eloquent and clever, but it is still nonsense.
    Otherwise, one gets into this pointless nonsense about who has the vision, etc., and who is to interpret the vision of others. If persons would simply evaluate the photos, we would be better off than getting into this business (through the back door) of who has this supposedly superior vision: make your case for the photo or the photographer, and have done with it.
    --Lannie
     
  88. Sorry for the double posting. I deleted it, but this remains.
     
  89. Julie - "Luis. Dearie. Sweetheart. Sugar plum. You know I think the world of you. But for god's sake, you've taken Eggleston's wonderful feral meat-eater den reeking of sex and slaughter and turned it into a sterilized, sanitized, French-cut castrated Poodle. In my opinion."
    Lots of butter, followed by a spanking in the form of God, flesh, reeking sex, slaughter and castration, all before 10 AM. Geez, a meaty " My... slaughter? Wow.
    It could be a pimply teenager's basement room -- no windows/daylight pouring in, though in the Julie-verse it is probably always midnight in that stinky, sticky-floored den of iniquity -- for all we can see in the photograph, and there is no way to know from that, which is no small part of its oracular allure. As we can see, there's plenty of room for the viewer to project into.
    [Not that it matters, and I shouldn't mention this, but it wasn't a pimply teenager's room . Nor was it a micro Baptist revival snuff film studio, or a secret Tryst & Tea room for Red Hat Society Ladies.]
    BTW, I had no idea there was (cringe) a French-cut form of castration (visions of testicular topiary dancing in my mind). How does it differ from the er...banal... snip-snip kind?
     
  90. Luis said (and I am laughing my head off): "How does it differ from the er...banal... snip-snip kind?" Well, for starters you need your vise-grip artery forceps (I recommend Craftsman) ... and then ... Oh wait. Maybe this is not the castration forum (not today, anyway).
    Lannie, does Pythagoras mention what device he's using for all his measuring? And does he talk about what he's measuring? Because that's what I'm talking about. And don't tell me man doesn't measure himself ... I'll get out my vise-grip artery forceps ...
     
  91. Lannie's adamant goings-on about Pythagoras are mildly humorous, especially because he's talking about Protagoras, who said "Man is the measure of all things." I hope now that I've said that twice, we can let the numbers guy (Pythagoras) rest in peace.
    Julie, Protagoras doesn't mention what he's measuring. All we have from the Pre-Socratics are out-of-context fragments, the meanings of which have been argued for centuries. Plato has a go at it in The Theaetetus, where he's beginning the approach to his theory of Forms, which would be the objective and knowing opposite of what he considers to be the shamefully subjective and relativistic sophistry of the "Man is the measure" idea. But there are significant readings of the quote that consider it to be more about sensation and feeling (which may be photographic) than about relativism. A woman in Miami may experience the same temperature as cold that a Man from Boston experiences as hot. If someone feels hot, you can't very well tell them it's cold. Plato, of course, didn't much care for sensations and feelings and didn't mind telling people how to feel ;)))
     
  92. A quote from Ernesrt Haas that I just suggested to John in another OP (Gould and Mehta) and gleaned from an essay by Ingre Bondi on the late photographer is just about right in my mind about one key aspect that separates banal and significant imnages.
    In Bondi's essay, the last paragraph is particularly revealing of Haas.
    "About the nature of poetry and photography, he (Haas) wrote:

    I see what I think
    I see what I feel because I am what I see
    If there is nothing to see and I still see it,
    That's poetry
    If there is something to see and everybody sees it
    That's photography."
     
  93. Importantly, Haas talks about seeing. If everybody sees it, NOT if everybody interprets it the same way.
     
  94. The "something to see" is what I think he refers to. The "something to see" of value is what most will declare as "nothing to see".
     
  95. "The 'something to see' of value is what most will declare as 'nothing to see'."
    Indeed, possibly like a silly little swithed-off light bulb on a red ceiling.
     
  96. Possibly, Fred, but that sort of light fixture (without the red ceiling) with wires going to other lights is not uncommon (a point also made by someone else) and has been seen and photographed by others unaware of Eggleston's image. I have spent 10 minutes unsuccessfully trying to find an older transparency of such a shot I took of a similar light in a small country restaurant in the 90s (and not knowing Eggleston's image). But I think what Eggleston saw was not that sort of geometry that is not unique, but the colour and what is outside of the frame. But I may be wrong.
    Do understand that I am not supposing any notoriety similar to Eggleston's, just that the light fixture and its form and dependencies (other than the colour and relation to what might be outside the frame) is not something that is "nothing to see and then seen by the artist". Again, excepting the other mentioned attributes, if they are that.
     
  97. Sorry for typing Pythagoras instead of Protagoras--rushing to get that posted before my first class.
    The rest stands.
    Fred, if only we all had your vision. . . .
    --Lannie
     
  98. "Fred, if only we all had your vision. . . ." --Lannie
    If only we all had our own.
     
  99. jtk

    jtk

    Searching for a truthy photograph ...
    [​IMG]
     
  100. He has his eye on me. Need I deliver, John?
     
  101. I have noted quite a different perception in this forum on the value of certain images to different persons. Often that difference is exploited or referenced indirectly in discussion of the images or a concept that the images seek to elaborate. The weight of the argument is often related to personal preferences in the perceptions of images. - Arthur​
    Perhaps truth is autobiographical, and we all share it.
    "The truth is the way to reveal something about your life, your thoughts, where you stand. It doesn't just stand there alone, the truth. It stands there combined with art. I want to make something that has more of the truth and not so much of art. Which means you have to go out on a limb - because people are more comfortable dealing with art than with truth. "
    Robert Frank​
    The truth doesn't mean 'non-fiction', it means telling stories too, maybe especially so, but
    "Why not be silent ?"
    William Eggleston​
    I think Eggleston's subjects as photographs are mostly silent - in all of their screaming colour - rather than banal.
     
  102. There is the disturbing suggestion here and there throughout this thread that one's vision is somehow deficient if one does not recognize the greatness of Eggleston's photo of the red ceiling.
    The photo is not bad, but to have it become a (much less "the") litmus test of one's photographic vision is ludicrous.
    --Lannie
     
  103. Lannie - "There is the disturbing suggestion here and there throughout this thread that one's vision is somehow deficient if one does not recognize the greatness of Eggleston's photo of the red ceiling.
    The photo is not bad, but to have it become a (much less "the") litmus test of one's photographic vision is ludicrous."
    Who suggested that? For the record, I never thought, said or implied such a thing. Nor is it one of my favorite Egglestons. Litmus test? I thought it was cited as an example of a photograph of a banal subject.
     
  104. I am not talking about you, Luis, but certain disturbing implications have been there in certain comments. It is true that the photo was first mentioned as an example of a photograph of a banal subject, but some seemed to want to use the discussion of it as a vehicle for suggesting much more than that.
    If I were going to use an Eggleston photo as a vehicle for discussing how it is that we cultivate photographic vision, I would personally have used one of his others--ones which are more powerful for me. I am still puzzled that he found it so powerful. I am not sure that that makes my vision deficient, as has been strongly suggested.
    There has been a strong elitist, insider tone that I find quite off-putting. as if some here were claiming to see more than others. That gets very old after a while.
    --Lannie
     
  105. Little art has come about by just going out/or in there shooting.​
    Anders, I am certainly not one to want to criticize analysis. If I were of that sort, then I would not be one of the denizens who inhabit this forum.
    I do wonder, however, how much some very great photographers engaged in the kind of discourse found here or in art criticism anywhere. I really have no idea. I do think that, at a minimum, great photographers would have had to have shot and viewed--and also analyzed--many photos, whether their own or those of others.
    If I had to choose so starkly, I would choose photographic experience over being literate in art or photographic criticism. Fortunately, I do not have to choose so starkly.
    How does one cultivate photographic vision? That is a very good question. I imagine that one does it best of all by taking photographs, if one single activity had to be chosen above all others.
    For all I know, taking photos might indeed be sufficient, if combined with critical self-awareness of one's work and one's technique. The vision? Well, there is vision, and then there is vision. . . .
    --Lannie
     
  106. I can talk and take pictures. Amazing.
    We say so we won't have to say. We talk so we won't have to talk. The presence and nature of the unsaid is learned by [first] saying it.
    "There are technical "tribal languages" whose sayings hover near ordinary speech, but in which there are highly determined meanings that are heard only by the initiate and not by the ordinary listener. The unsaid can be missed in unlearned listening."
    " ... [The initiate learns] to hear the echoing and reverberating horizonal significance of the unsaid."
    -- Don Ihde, Listening and Voice (2007)​
     
  107. Landrum, yes I know you are not that type of person and yet you expressed yourself like it when mentioning your tiredness ... Going out shooting can never replace the intellectual effort of understanding and learning. It is part of it. Therefor any suggestion that we have to choose is not that relevant.
    Some great photographers institutionalized the problem by not involving themselves in discussion on the relative quality of their photos by becoming integrated in structures such as Magnum or magazines like Life that chose for them. Other photographers, fewer, have chosen to express their views openly on the relative merits of photos shot by themselves rot others. I think there is not one way forward but individual ways, fitting to the interest and capabilities of each one of us.
    What to do for developing our capability of seeing?
    Vast question with no one dimensional answer available. Simple answers are simply not useful. One way of doing this is to chose your parents and close family well and grow up in a milieu that "sees" things around. Most artistic milieus are that type. If that is not available as choice, surely good teachers and mentors are important. For most of us what is important is to challenge our "eyes" by seeing what others have seen. Studying, seeing, visual arts in all it's expressions and variety is therefor one way. My visits the last days to the yearly FIAC contemporary art fair in Paris is such an exercise that can challenge any current ways of seeing art - and understanding current artistic expressions. Going regularly to museums to see and become closely acquintant to the history of art is another way forward. Reading what others have written on art and the mode of seeing. Reading what others have written about the specific strength and weaknesses of photography as mode of seeing in artistic terms is yet another. Shooting photos is surely also a way forward. All of it, and yet more, is necessary for developing the eye and one' capacity of seeing in my eyes (sic!)
     
  108. Lannie - "I do wonder, however, how much some very great photographers engaged in the kind of discourse found here or in art criticism anywhere."
    Some, quite a bit, some very little. There are many books about photographers on photography, where you can find out for yourself. Many working in journalistic, commercial or documentary traditions weren't subject to art criticism until those lines blurred in earnest. Artists were.
    LK - "How does one cultivate photographic vision?"
    There is no single answer to that question, particularly because there is no one kind of photographic vision (not to mention kinds of work or ways to actualize it). No road map, no recipe, no path. There are many ways, and any number of them might work for each of us. Generally, develop ourselves. This can't really be done by decimating the plastic on big purchases, etc, which is why one never sees much written on this. The emphasis on photography (as seen right on this site) is on things that can be advertised/bought. As Barbara Kruger inserted in one of her pictures, "I Shop, Therefore I Am."
    LK - "For all I know, taking photos might indeed be sufficient, if combined with critical self-awareness of one's work and one's technique."
    That may work perfectly well for you. Or not.
    LK - "The vision? Well, there is vision, and then there is vision. . . ."
    Waaait....are you saying some are seeing more than others? :)
     
  109. Waaait....are you saying some are seeing more than others? :)
    Yes, oh, yes, Luis. I am just not sure what "makes" qua creates a great photographer, but you and Anders have given me food for thought.
    I would like to know more about Weston's or Adams' artistic upbringings, for example. What about Van Gogh, for that matter, to cross into another medium?
    I would also like to know what role genetics plays in having "the eye." I think that it can be learned to a great extent, but some obviously never learn it, and others seem to have a natural knack for, say, framing or finding the perfect crop, among many other manifestations of having "the eye."
    --Lannie
     
  110. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie, fwiw I think very few "great photographers" have ever paid much attention to the work of others except in jealousy (Weston/Stieglitz for example).
    I think "greatness" has to do with commitment and individuality rather than popularity and critical recognition, which is the reason many have been essayists or photojournalists (Magnum). The sheep/popularity factor explains how "great" correlates with academic or critic/gallery recognition. For example, Szarkowski, unlike AD Coleman, addressed "connoiseurs" rather than photographers. Conniseurs value the thoughts of critics like him as primary criteria, rather than the personal response to significance more likely from active photographers. Some of the gallery-popular simply devise and work a formula that critics can be paid to write about (eg Mapplethorpe). Many of the "greats" have never had recognition of that sort (know the work of Craig Varjabedian, Michael Berman, or Paul Fusco?)
     
  111. Lanie, Van Gogh family ?? Theologists, rich higher middle class ("Bourgeoisie") and art dealers...
     
  112. "(know the work of Craig Varjabedian, Michael Berman, or Paul Fusco?)"
    Yes.
    [Stepping on the ping-pong ball in spite of Masterly baiting. *Crunch*]
     
  113. "Masterly baiting." A very visual turn of phrase!
    ________________________________________
    I am able to read because I learned my alphabet, memorized vocabulary words, practiced spelling. I improved my reading by writing and reading a lot.
    At one time, I could play classical piano at least proficiently because I took piano lessons, learned to read music, listened to all the records I could get my hands on as a kid, was shown different ways of holding my fingers on the keys, and was told to mimic the human voice.
    Photography is no different. Someone may take great pictures without much learning or practice. Most can't. The vast majority can't. Many who think they can can't. Many will take lots of pictures for years on end and never take one that's significant and never even get any better. Quantity usually does not breed quality. Learning doesn't stifle creativity if one knows how to learn, is taught well, and is not blowing hot air when talking about it.
    Group interaction and discussion and respect for influence and homage to one's peers has been tried successfully by many (Algonquin Round Table, Dada in Zurich, French New Wave Cinema) and avoided by others.
     
  114. How do you tell a significant image from a more banal one?
    Speaking of one's credentials (cognoscente, prior successes, training in this and in other fields of creative expression) provides for me but a fragmentary answer to that question. Yet some general answers and approaches to distinguishing quality in a work can be seen here amongst some of the more directed responses to date to this question.
    If the interest exists for the elaboration or understanding amongst us of some values that determine why specific images are significant (in terms of their communication, aesthetics, etc.), this discussion could possibly evolve further than it has, either here or in another future OP. There are two ways we can approach that:
    By providing and discussing specific examples (the WHY), as sought in the present OP;
    or,
    by discussing one's personal values or approach in photography and the creation of images, without recourse to a critique of known significant works that demonstrate those values.
    For those interested in the latter, the value of the approach as opposed to the WHY of significant images, Fred's recent OP on Value is a very appropriate venue. I hope that both concepts or questions will receive "full disclosure". as they say.
     
  115. Arthur - "How do you tell a significant image from a more banal one?"
    From the detection end: An unusual image is, by definition, a rare anomaly or aberration, and not necessarily because of originality. One has to at least be familiar with the banal -- and what lies above it -- in order to understand what rises above that category, and where it fits.
    From the production end: You cannot follow any prescriptions or treasure maps that will take you to doing first-class work, though some things can't hurt.
    About the values one already has: If they haven't propelled you to that happy (significant?) place yet...maybe the list needs some additions and deletions.
     
  116. Arthur - "How do you tell a significant image from a more banal one?"​
    More significantly, how do you tell when a banal image is significant, or when a significant one is banal ?
    ( By giving up 'significance' )
     
  117. "About the values one already has: If they haven't propelled you to that happy (significant?) place yet...maybe the list needs some additions and deletions."
    And to that Luis I think you should add...."or photographic experience and practice". A photographer may have the right values but has not yet been successful in making them manifest in his work.
    Phylo: Definitely no. That's nonsense.
    Significance is just the adjective. Write "supreme" or "outstanding" if you prefer.
     
  118. Phylo - Since I also had trouble with the word 'significance' as Fred introduced it here, could you possibly expand a little on your statement: "By giving up 'significance'"?
    _____________________


    [Luis]"About the values one already has: If they haven't propelled you to that happy (significant?) place yet...maybe the list needs some additions and deletions."
    Arthur - "And to that Luis I think you should add...."or photographic experience and practice".
    That was so very obvious that I took it for granted everyone knew it.
    Arthur - "A photographer may have the right values but has not yet been successful in making them manifest in his work."
    There really are no 'right' or wrong values. When I look at current art, I am seeing far more manifested intelligence, wit, etc than values. Step outside of that into documentary, journalism, propaganda, etc, and values become more of a priority.
     
  119. Phylo - Since I also had trouble with the word 'significance' as Fred introduced it here, could you possibly expand a little on your statement: "By giving up 'significance'"?​
    Arthur asked "How do you tell a significant image from a more banal one ?"
    Let me ask : How do you tell a significant subject from a more banal one ?
    Answering my own question, does it really matter, when a banal subject too can render a significant image, and vice versa.
    By 'giving up significance', we might no longer go looking for it in the subject photographed, for the photograph to be rendered significant for us or not, and start looking at the image in the photograph.
    Which because of photography's nature ( the photograph <=> the subject photographed ) is not an easy task, unless maybe one stops searching for significance as something inherent in what the camera was pointed at, because the camera was pointed at it.
    ---------
    Mmmm, come to think of it, essentially all photographs, are just that, equal in their being a photograph, one not any more or less significant than the next.
    Again coming back to Arthur's question of "How do you tell a significant image from a more banal one ?"
    How about : How does the image <> subject tells us whether it's significant or banal, instead of we telling ourselves ?
     
  120. Phylo and Luis, I admit to perhaps not giving enough time and thought to this recent discussion (or perhaps the limitation is more inherent in myself....), but if I understand Phylo we should be more concerned with what the image tells us, which can be reduced to the subject itself, which I think he feels has its own life, rather than the composition of that, as was perceived and created by the photographer.
    Are we talking of two separate yet interrelated identities, namely what the photographer's (or artist's) creation tells us, and on the other hand, what the subject photographed tells us? Does that really eliminate the question of a banal versus a significant (or outstanding) image? Perhaps not (my understatement, if you wish).
    The floating scale of perceived value between a banal and a significant image is that created by the viewer, or viewers (Mr. or Mrs. Everybody, the cognoscente, critics, society...), as he, she or they find new things to consider in each of these initially categorised (or not) images.
     
  121. My introduction to significance came about 40 years ago, reading Suzanne Langer. I've started several threads on the subject where I've quoted from Langer extensively in order to communicate that I use "significance" very differently than to mean "importance." Langer uses music to describe what she means because it is the most non-verbal and non-subject oriented of the arts, but she also transfers these thoughts to the other arts. I don't agree with everything she says, though she has great insights and I appreciate her nuancing of the subject. Regardless of that, this is one of her descriptions of significance, keeping in mind that the root of the word is "sign." It should clarify why I use the word, though others may use it differently in these forums. It also speaks to Phylo's orientation toward subject and photograph.
    [Like a lot of philosophy, Langer builds in this excerpt. She describes some views in order to make clear her progression, so it's important not to get hung up on individual statements which could be misleading out of the greater context. She often presents a view (which might be mistakenly taken as hers) only to follow it up with a question and important refinement.]
    There is an aesthetic based on liking and disliking, a hunt for a sensationist definition of beauty, and a conception of art as the satisfaction of taste . . . it seems to be an essentially barren adventure.
    Another kind of reaction to music, however, is more strking, and seems more significant: that is the emotional response it is commonly supposed to evoke.
    This inquiry took for granted what Charles Avison, a British musicologist and organist, said in 1775: ". . . We are by turns elated with joy, or sunk in pleasing sorrow, rouzed to courage, or quelled by grateful terrors, melted into pity, tenderness, and love, or transported to the regions of bliss, in an extacy of diving praise."
    The terms "pleasing sorrow" and "grateful terrors" present something of a puzzle. If music really grieves or frightens us, why do we listen to it? "The sorrows and terrors of music," Avison explained, "are not our own, but are sympathetically felt by us."
    But if we are moved by sympathy, with whom are we sympathizing? The obvious answer is: the musician's. He who produces the music is pouring out the real feelings of his heart.
    In this form the doctrine has come down to our day, and is widely accepted my musicians and philosophers alike. . . . We find the belief very widely disseminated that music is an emotional catharsis, that its essence is self-expression.
    Yet the belief that music is essentially a form of self-expression meets with paradox in very short order. Sheer self expression requires no artistic form. A lynching-party howling round the gallows-tree, a woman wringing her hands over a sick child, a lover who has just rescued his sweetheart in an accident and stands trembling, sweating, and perhaps laughing or crying with emotion, is giving vent to intense feelings; but such scenes are not occasions for music or composing. Not even a theme, "translating an impression of keenest sorrow," is apt to come to a man, a woman, or a mob in a moment when passionate self-expression is needed. The laws of emotional catharsis are natural laws, not artistic.
    Music is not "self-expression"; it is exposition of feelings which may be attributed to persons on the stage or fictitious characters in a ballad. In pure instrumental music without dramatic action, there may be a high emotional import which is not referred to any subject, and the glib assurance of some program writers that this is the composer's protest against life, cry of despair, vision of his beloved, or what not, is a perfectly unjustified fancy for if music is really a language of emotion, it expresses primarily the composer's knowledge of human feeling, not how or when that knowledge was acquired.
    From Wagner I take what may be the most explicit rendering of the principle: "What music expresses, is eternal, infinite and ideal; it does not express the passion, love, or longing of such-and-such an individual on such-and-such an occasion, but passion, love or longing in itself, and this it presents in that unlimited variety of motivations, which is the exclusive and particular characterstic of music."
    Despite the romantic phraseology, this passage states quite clearly that music is not self-expression, but formulation and representation of emotions, moods, mental tensions and resolutions—a "logical picture" of sentient, responsive life, a source of insight, not a plea for sympathy. Feelings revealed in music are essentially not "the passion, love or longing of such-and-such an individual," inviting us to put ourselves in that individual's place, but are presented directly to our understanding, that we may grasp, realize, comprehend these feelings, without pretending to have them or imputing them to anyone else. Its subject-matter is the same as that of "self-expression," and its symbols may even be borrowed, upon occasion, from the realm of expressive symptoms; yet the borrowed suggestive elements are formalized, and the subject-matter "distanced" in an artistic perspective.
    The notion of "psychical distance" as the hallmark of every artistic "projection" of experience does not make the emotive contents typical, general, impersonal, or static; but it makes them conceivable, so that we can evisage and understand them without verbal helps, and without the scaffolding of an occasion wherein they figure. A comoposer not only indicates, but articulates subtle complexes of feeling that language cannot even name, let alone set forth; he knows the forms of emotion and can handle them, compose them. We do not compose our exclamations and jitters.​
    She goes a little too far for me in claiming so strongly that music is not self-expression but I think there's a lot to be gained from her understanding of the lack of a necessary one-to-one correlation between the emotions of an artist and the emotional content of the artwork.
     
  122. How can an artist create feelings of "passion, love or longing in itself" (Her Wagner example, prossibly based on the many instances of these in the Ring of the Nibelungen) without knowing these feelings and thereby composing what he knows? There is not normally I would think an arms length manner of composing a photograph or music in which emotions are displayed. Agreed that the Langer defintion of self-expression is somewhat unique and limited in definition (to only the raw feeling with impulse that she gives examples of, and not artistic self-expression), and it is likely true that the photographs or music do not rely on such specific feelings of the originator, at least not instantaneously, at the moment of composition, but they may influence the course of the composer's experience and later desire to portray more generic feelings of passion or love or longing (or fear, or stress, or other feelings) in a work.
    Photography, like music, can also induce feelings in the recipient and I believe this is one aspect for a criteria of whether, for a specific viewer, a photograph is special or banal. There are of course other criteria. For instrumental music to evoke feelings, decoupled from any stage drama or other visual complement, requires a composer well versed in the musical forms and elements, and the effect of the assembling of these, often in highly varying form, on what sparks a human emotional response. I often have feelings of deep emotion upon hearing some compositions. I cannot say why, or fully understand how the composer has achieved that human response. In some images of others, and in some of my own images, I feel an emotional or physical response that is also hard to describe. It does not often go very deep, but it is there. An outstanding image often incites those feelings or the imaginations of the mind in a stronger or more continuous manner. Quite apart from compositional attributes of the image, which may be perceived and enjoyed more on an aesthetic plane, these feelings received from viewing can certainly lift an image out of the trivial category.
    Langer says little about the significance of the composition itself, that which one can read on paper, or listen to, and which relates to the beauty of the way the music is crafted, put together, and the impact of that on the listener. As a non-emotional content of an image, it is a purely visual or two dimensional composition in which the non-emotional form is the product.
     
  123. "For instrumental music to evoke feelings, decoupled from any stage drama or other visual complement, requires a composer well versed in the musical forms and elements, and the effect of the assembling of these, often in highly varying form, on what sparks a human emotional response."
    Yes, Arthur, this is what Langer is getting at. I like the way you said it.
    As far as the "arm's length manner" you mention, that happens to me sometimes. Several of my own best (I know, bad word) photos have been taken when I'm more focused on working hard than anything else. That doesn't mean that emotion is not going into them. Of course it is. But I think Langer is onto something when she talks about the mother wringing her hands over a sick child. That kind of emotion has a profound effect on the artist and goes into the photographer's work in some way, but the wringing of the hands is a different kind of emotional exclamation than is the taking of a picture. Because a photograph may have a certain amount of deliberateness behind it and is not (merely) a crying sound or heavy breathing or the trembling we feel when we are afraid, she sees a difference between the kind of emotional expression that is a scream or a cry or a trembling and the kind of expression that is the creation of a photograph or piece of music.
    I think this is why she italicizes the word "compose." One composes a piece of music or composes or constructs a photograph. One does not compose a cry of ecstasy when having sex or a cry of hatred when burning a cross in someone's front yard.
    You ask how one can compose what they don't know? How does one write fiction? How does one write about the loss of a child without having lost a child? Fiction. How does Annie Proulx, a woman, write about the love and sexuality of two gay men in Brokeback Mountain. Fiction. Significance. Maybe significance is not the kind of expressing that requires the experience itself.
     
  124. jtk

    jtk

    Only a dead nervous system fails to distinguish significance.
    Identifying significance is literally perception's first job.
    Finding something "banal" does not relate in any way to significance.
    Poets commonly find significance in "banal" phenomena. Some photographers are similarly perceptive.
     

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